Sunday, December 4, 2016

Book Review: "Running" by Cara Hoffman

Enigmatic and atmospheric, Cara Hoffman's newest novel, Running, is the story of the relationships which leave an indelible mark on our lives, and the secrets we keep both from each other and ourselves.

Bridey Sullivan arrives in Athens in the 1980s, fleeing a life of tragedy and dysfunction in Washington State. She immediately meets Jasper Lethe and his boyfriend, one-time boxer Milo Rollack, and she joins them in becoming a "runner," essentially a shill paid a small commission to attract tourists to a run-down Greek hotel. There is a thriving culture of these runners in Athens, many of whom spend their paltry salaries on alcohol and drugs, and engage in both friendly and not-so-friendly tactics to drive the tourists to their hotels.

"We'd drifted south from the same lost places to find this life."

Bridey, Milo, and Jasper form a family of sorts, which becomes more and more complicated by Bridey's infatuation with Milo, and Jasper's increasingly erratic behavior. When a scheme to try and make some quick money gets them peripherally involved in an act of terrorism, it signals the end to the trio's idyllic life, and lead to significant changes for each of them.

I wasn't sure about this book at first, but it hooked me fairly quickly. These characters fascinated me, with their raw emotions, their passion, and their mysteries, and it was interesting to see how helter-skelter their lives were while they were running. Hoffman's portrayal of the relationships between the characters was very powerful and I can't stop thinking about them.

Running shifts back and forth in time and place, from Bridey's childhood in Washington before she left for Athens and Milo's working-class existence in Manchester, England, to Athens, to an isolated house on the cliffs of the Mediterranean, and modern-day New York City. At times it takes a moment or two to figure out where in the plot the narrative of a particular chapter falls, and that takes some getting used to, and in many instances, the plot leaves you with as many questions as it does answers, so I'd love to talk with Hoffman about what ideas lay behind these characters.

I read Hoffman's first novel, So Much Pretty, shortly after its release in 2011, and I remember being impressed by her storytelling ability. (Interestingly enough, as you can see from my review, one of my chief criticisms of that book repeats itself here.)

I love the way she's grown as a writer in the last five years, and think this story of how the relationships we form when we're younger often stick with us our entire lives won't be forgotten anytime soon. This may not be a book for everyone, but if you can get your mind around this type of life, you'll be rewarded with a beautiful story.

NetGalley and Simon & Schuster provided me an advance copy of the book in exchange for an unbiased review. Thanks for making this available!

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