False Start

Ann Patchett
HarperCollins, $25.95, 304 pp.

Ann Patchett’s new novel opens with a wryly romantic vision of motherhood. Bernadette Doyle, recently deceased mother of one biological and two adopted sons, has left behind a beguiling Irish statue of the Virgin Mary, bearing an uncanny resemblance to red-haired Bernadette herself. When her sisters come to claim the statue, long handed down to daughters in the family, Bernadette’s widower refuses to hand it over, pointing out that his two boys, Tip and Teddy, pray to their mother’s image every night. Though no one will say it aloud, everyone understands why Bernadette’s sisters think Tip and Teddy would be particularly unsuitable beneficiaries of the statue: because they’re black.

Run is the second of Patchett’s five novels to take on the subject of race. She is not interested in racial tension so much as in the possibility of love—and respect—crossing racial lines. The black narrator of her early novel Taft is a former jazz musician, frustrated by his distance from his own son, who befriends two troubled white teenagers; much of the narrative concerns his attempts to imagine the white children’s father, whom he has never met. In her seminal work on whites writing blacks, Playing in the Dark, Toni Morrison argues that white...

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About the Author

Valerie Sayers, professor of English at Notre Dame, is the author of six novels, including The Powers.