Near the beginning of Ann Patchett’s novel Run, Tip and Teddy Doyle, adopted sons of Bernard Doyle, are sitting with their father attending a lecture by civil rights activist Jesse Jackson on the campus of Harvard University. Doyle had named his sons after two well-known Massachusetts politicians, anticipating a career in politics for them. Both sons have come reluctantly to the lecture, out of a sense of obligation to their father. Tip had to interrupt his work at the Museum of Comparative Zoology, where he helps to maintain the large collection of fish. He is fascinated with ichthyology, but his father was disappointed for having “paid more than forty thousand dollars a year to one of the finest universities in the world to give his son the right to peer into glass jars at dead fish.” Teddy has just come from seeing his Uncle Sullivan, a much-admired, elderly priest living in a nursing home. Uncle Sullivan is quite sick, and Teddy would have preferred to stay with him to deal with the many visitors who badger him with requests for intercessory prayers.
Tip is frustrated about the time he has to spend at the lecture. He needs to study for semester exams and to finish his work at the museum. When the lecture finally ends, the father makes a further demand on his time, asking him to attend a reception for Jesse Jackson, but Tip’s resentment boils over into an emotional outburst: “I’m not going to do this . You don’t care about the things I care about. I don’t care about the things you care about.” Distracted by his argument, Tip stumbles over the curb into the path of an oncoming car. At the last second, an African American woman standing nearby pushes Tip out of the way, taking the impact of the car herself. An ambulance is called to take the woman, who is in critical condition with multiple injuries, to a hospital. The woman’s young daughter is left behind at the scene of the accident with the three men of the Doyle family.
Tip has a broken ankle from the accident and is about to be transported to the hospital in a police car with his brother and father. The girl is very upset to be separated from her mother and demands to be taken along. Teddy talks to her and tries to calm her down. She tells Teddy that her name is Kenya, “like the country,” and her mother’s name is Tennessee, “like the state.” Teddy probes Kenya about getting in touch with her father or other relatives, but she insists that she wants to stay with them. Then she tells them “the one thing I’m never supposed to tell”that the woman who saved Tip’s life is actually Tip and Teddy’s birth mother. Kenya’s mother had taken an apartment in a housing development near the Doyles and had discreetly been watching her sons from a distance when they played outdoors and later when they went to school. Tennessee and Kenya had been sitting near the Doyles at the Jackson lecture and afterward were standing close by when the car collision was imminent. It is not just a chance coincidence that Tennessee was in the right place at the right time to save her son from serious injury.
The father is suspicious that Kenya’s story may be a fabrication. A DNA test of Tennessee and his two sons would be needed to verify the maternity claim. Tip and Teddy are shocked to learn that they appear to have a younger sister. At the hospital, Tip gets a cast on his ankle and is released with crutches. Kenya’s mother is in intensive care, scheduled for surgery the next morning. Exhausted, the Doyles take Kenya home with them. However, another surprise is waiting for the Doyles at home. The boys’ older brother, Sullivan, who has been out of touch with the family for some two years, has come home unexpectedly.
Sullivan was a protective, older brother for Tip and Teddy when they were young children, but he became antagonistic toward his father after his mother died of cancer. He has been estranged from the family since causing a scandal some years ago. Most recently he had been living in Africa, delivering HIV medication to hospitals but making money on the side by selling some of it on the black market. When his illegal activity appeared to be on the verge of being discovered, he made a quick exit back to Boston. He arrives just in time to participate in the unfolding events....
(The entire section is 1759 words.)