Published by Simon & Schuster
Publication date: February 21st 2017
Genres: Coming-of-age, Fiction, Literary
It’s 1988 when Bridey first meets Jasper but when Running begins it’s with the news of his death. She is back in Athens, the place where she, Jasper and Jasper’s boyfriend Milo worked as runners—someone young and pretty who corrals tourists on the trains heading into Athens, regaling them with the beauty and savings of the hotels where they work, leading them to that hotel and getting paid a finder’s fee after the unwitting tourist has checked into what is actually a dump. Each of this trio found themselves in Greece for a different reason—either running away from an old life or running to a new one. As the novel trips between narrators, times and places, it becomes clear that running is the one thing that defines them.
Author Cara Hoffman sets the stage beautifully in Running. Both Bridey and Milo have histories that poignantly give a sense of how they’ve come to be where they are. It is Jasper who is the enigma. Unlike his friends, his past is not one of abandonment or loss or even a search for identity. He is the errant son of well-to-do British parents for whom experience, be it grand or degrading, is his reason for being. He is the tinder to the flame of their group–fueling their adventures, but with a recklessness that is dangerous and can’t last.
In contrast to Jasper’s wild fragility as fuel, Bridey is the accelerant in their lives. She burns hot and fast, leaving ash and a longing for the heat she once brought to life. In their time together she is with both Jasper and Milo. Yet, for as clearly as Hoffman defines her, her motivations are vague. We know much of what she does, but very little of why. The same is true of Milo. He’s the most acted-upon character, a poet and teacher, but also the one who stays and is left time and again, which may be why he’s the present day narrator.
What I loved about Running was Hoffman’s descriptive force. She put such depth and precision into her characters that even when I didn’t understand them, I cared what happened to them. What was harder for me was a tweaking of reality and the timeline that left those same characters and some plot points hanging. I appreciate ambiguity in my fiction—it leaves room for the readers’ imagination to fill in the blanks and makes for great book discussion, but too much feels like deliberate and unwelcome vagueness—not a trait I usually associate with the careful Hoffman.
A streak of self-destruction cuts a wide swath through Running. Bridey, Jasper and Milo seem to share nothing in common but a nihilistic view of the world and their place in it. By overlaying the natural beauty of Greece with the squalor and viciousness of the protagonists’ lives Hoffman saturates the novel with a melancholic and discordant atmosphere. And even though Milo narrates from twenty-five years after the fact, Running reminds me of a Lord of the Flies and Suddenly, Last Summer mashup. Feral youth, an exotic locale and no one is getting out unscathed.