Run, by Ann Patchett

RunI’ve had Ann Patchett on my list of authors to get around to for some time now, so I’m very glad my book club chose this book and gave me that push to actually do so. But now I think I have to put her on my list of authors to give another shot, because this book? Didn’t really do it for me.

It’s a weird book to try to talk about (note to book clubs: does not make a great meeting), because while I read it eagerly over the course of four hours or so, I managed to come away with no strong feelings about it.

The plot is… weird. It centers on this wealthy political family in Boston with a dad and three sons, two of whom are adopted and black in an otherwise very white family. The dad dotes on the adopted sons; the biological son is kind of a screwup. Then the dad and the two adopted sons go to a Jesse Jackson event and afterward one of the sons is very nearly killed by a car except that he gets pushed out of the way at the last moment… by his biological mother.

Now, that sounds really cool, I think, but the book does not do the cool things with it that I would have wanted. The mother stays mostly unconscious in the hospital for the duration of the book, so we don’t get terribly much from her except for a strange interlude where she talks to her dead best friend. Instead we focus on the mother’s daughter, who knows that the brothers are her brothers and has apparently been keeping an eye on them with her mother all her life and is now being taken care of by this family that apparently didn’t have enough issues already.

The book does some interesting things. It opens with this fantastic story about a statue that I probably could have read an entire novel about. I can see it doing cool things with repetition and layered meanings. It talks about race, class, family dynamics, how our choices affect other people, all that good stuff. But for all the talking it does, I’m not sure what it’s trying to tell me.

In our book club meeting, my friend who picked the book mentioned that this book reads a lot like a fairy tale, with allegories and magical realism and things that just don’t make sense if you’re trying to read this as a straightforward novel. Unfortunately, the allegories of the book are largely political, calling to mind to my friends the Kennedys and other politicians and their various scandals, but my understanding of these references ended at knowing that Ted Kennedy was a person, so.

So onto the list of authors to try again Patchett goes. Maybe if I can read her awesome writing with some references that I understand, I’ll do a lot better!

Recommendation: For people who know politics, probably, and people interested in some weirdly twisty plot lines.

Rating: 6/10

I Crawl Through It, by A.S. King

I Crawl Through ItTrue story: I am so on board the A.S. King train that when I saw a pile of advance copies of this book at the library conference I went to this summer, I snagged one immediately, even though I already had a digital advance copy and basically no plans to read it in print. It’s just so pretty! And it’s by A.S. King! I wants it!

When I finally did get around to reading it, entirely digitally, I was… confused. I haven’t read all of King’s books (a situation to be rectified indeed!), but all of the ones I have read have followed a similar pattern: normal teenager, normal but slightly heavy teenager problems, weird magical realism element that may or may not directly affect the plot or story.

But in this book, and King acknowledges as much in the, um, acknowledgements (haaa), it’s all the weird, all the time, and it’s more like magical surrealism.

The main character, Stanzi, is our more or less normal teenage girl with unspecified-at-the-outset normal teenage problems. Her friends, on the other hand, are super weird. Gustav is building an invisible helicopter that Stanzi can only see on Tuesdays. China walks around literally (figuratively? figuratively literally?) inside out hoping maybe someone will ask her why. Lansdale has hair that grows when she lies, and so has very very very long hair. Also, there is a dude who hangs out in the bushes giving away crafted letters (like, As and Js and Qs and the like) in exchange for kisses and possibly other things.

So, weird people. Also weird situations. These teens go to a school where someone is calling in bomb threats every day, so the kids are constantly doing bomb-threat drills, and when they’re not wandering in and out of the building due to potential bombs they are taking standardized tests because that’s how the high schools do. And that helicopter I mentioned? Gustav and Stanzi end up taking a ride in it to a land of geniuses from which there are no departures.

And, let me be clear, I have not named all the weird things in this book. It is weird. But it’s also, as is to be expected from King’s books, a smart look into the lives of teenagers. All of the characters have their issues, and with those issues a need both to hide them and to share them with everyone else. But everyone else is so busy with their own issues that there’s not time to play those games until it’s nearly too late. Oh, teenagerhood, how I do not miss you. Of course, the parents in this book are all at least as weird as their kids, so that’s something to look forward to, I guess?

This is definitely not the book I was expecting, and I spent much of it with a look on my face approximating “What even is going on here?” But still it was fun and fascinating and it’s A.S. King so it was wonderfully written and I would definitely not recommend this as your first King book but if you’ve liked her others you will like this one.

Now to go work on her backlist some more until her next book comes out!

Recommendation: For lovers of the superest of super weirdness.

Rating: 8/10

Everybody Sees the Ants, by A.S. King

Everybody Sees the AntsThis book had been sitting in my office for approximately forever, requested in a fit of “read ALL the A.S. King” and then ignored because I am terrible. But eventually I found myself without a million other things to read and I seized the opportunity to continue my magical King journey.

And I do mean magical — all of King’s books that I’ve read have a slightly supernatural feel to them, and this one is no exception. In this story, our protagonist, Lucky, dreams that he visits his POW grandfather and wakes up with items from his dreams littering his bed. Lucky also has some imaginary ant friends who wander around pointing out important things and saying things about other people, but who doesn’t? Hence the title, I guess.

But as usual, the magical part of the story isn’t really the focus; what we really have here is the story of a high school freshman who just wants to get through high school but is hounded on one side by school bullies and on the other by a school administration that cares more about Lucky’s poor taste than his daily struggles. Lucky’s parents aren’t any help as they’re busy ignoring the problems in their own relationship, and of course Lucky isn’t too proactive about talking to anyone either, figuring that the adults in his life should just understand what’s wrong without him having to actually tell him. But with time and a sweltering summer trip to Arizona to visit family, Lucky is able to see that he’s not the only person with personal and family problems and is able to see that he’s a pretty cool dude regardless.

I quite enjoyed this book, which so perfectly captures the awfulness of teenagerhood and also reminds the reader that everyone has problems that feel like the only problems that exist, and that solving those problems mostly involves facing them head on. I also enjoyed the POW storyline more than I thought I would at the start; the connections to Lucky’s life and story are strong and the resolution of Lucky’s quest to save his grandfather is as complex as it should be. There were a few simplistic bits, including a quasi-manic quasi-pixie definite-dream girl and some awkward fat shaming, but in a story narrated by a 14-year-old it’s a touch more allowable than usual.

Recommendation: For teens as well as adults who are safely past the traumas of teenagerhood.

Rating: 8/10