Thursday, May 27, 2010

RUN, a Transracial-Adoption-Themed Novel

Run by Ann Patchett

Two Black brothers, Tip and Teddy, are adopted by Boston's White mayor Bernard Doyle twenty years ago. The adoptive mother dies four years later, and for much of their lives the boys are grieving the loss of this red-haired woman, perhaps more than thinking about their biological mother who had surrendered them before that.

Then one wintery night, an accident and chance encounter with a woman who has secretly been part of their entire lives makes them consider their adoption in a new way.

Overall I found this tale deftly written, with plot twists and surprises that made it nearly impossible for me to put it down. Of course, I read very carefully to see how the race-adoption themes were dealt with by this White author who may or may not have a personal connection with adoption (I couldn't find much in initial research).

I was pleased to see that Patchett writes a refreshingly nuanced view of adoption and race, without--as Mixed Race America author points out here--dwelling on either topic heavy-handedly. Readers get a clear sense of Tip and Teddy's characters, and see that they are aware of how adoption and race play into their lives but yet do not feel defined by them. Sure, one could say that maybe Patchett didn't go deeply enough into all the issues, but there were those moments that reminded me that she knew what she was doing. When discussing whether to bring home the girl whose mother had gotten into an accident, Doyle says, "I don't think they'd let us walk out of [the hospital] with a random little girl." Tip replies, "Not a random little white girl, but a random little black girl? I don't think anyone's going to stop us at the door."

I like the uniqueness of this story as it is centered on male perspectives. As I've discussed numerous times, the adoption world--academic writings, memoirs, social work, support groups, conferences--is overwhelmingly populated, at least visibly, with women. Here it's an adoptive father who is shocked and protective when considering the possibility of a birth mother suddenly showing up. Here are two adopted sons, who react very differently to their adoption and the emotions surrounding their abandonment.

Teddy discusses wonderment about their mother.

"I'm not interested," Tip replies.

The birth mother is given a large presence in the novel, though her voice is one that only readers hear--the other characters don't. For that, it is sad, and maybe left something to be desired--I haven't decided yet. It's something all too common with adoption: those many things left unsaid, misunderstood.

I don't intend this blog post to be a complete spoiler, so I'll stop here. But for those interested in adoption, or even those who just love a good book with socially relevant themes and lyrical language, I highly recommend reading Run. 

1 comment:

Marianne said...

I heard Patchett speak about the time the novel was released. She was emphatic that she often wrote about topics not directly in her own life; did research on them. Mentioned friends who were adopted. Her earlier novel The Patron Saint of Liars deals with birthmothers. Is not as good.