John Gilstrap Critical Essays


(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

John Gilstrap Nathan's Run

Born c. 1957, Gilstrap is an American novelist.

Drawing on experience from his volunteer work with troubled children, Gilstrap's debut novel, Nathan's Run (1996), explores the theme of real children subjected to an often brutal penal system with little consideration of their crimes as defensive reactions to unbearable situations. The owner of an environmental consulting firm, Gilstrap outlined Nathan's Run during a 1994 business trip to Montana. The story begins as Nathan, orphaned at the age of 12 and placed in the custody of an abusive uncle, steals a car to escape. Captured and sentenced to a juvenile detention center, Nathan is further abused by other inmates as well as the adults in charge. When a guard attempts to stab him, Nathan kills the guard and flees, taking shelter in the home of a vacationing family. While there, he turns on the radio and learns that he is the target of a nationwide hunt. He calls the radio station to give his side of the story and finds support in a charismatic radio talk-show personality known as "The Bitch," who engenders sympathy for him among her listeners. As Nathan runs—"borrowing" cars and empty homes (though always cleaning up and leaving a note of apology), and evading the police, a self-serving prosecutor, and a mob hit man—he continues to call in to The Bitch with updates, and his flight becomes a real-life soap opera for listeners. Critical response to Nathan's Run has generally been favorable, with commentators praising its fast pace, likeable protagonist, and thrilling conclusion. Detractors, however, argue that the novel copies John Grisham's The Client (1993), and fault its characters as generic, lacking personality and psychological depth.