Book Review: Running

Cara Hoffman’s Running centers on a small group (two guys, one gal) who eek out a living scamming tourists into staying at a rundown Greek hotel during the 1980s. This group, Milo, Jasper and Bridey are close and tightknit adoptive family, living in each others’ pockets, until one of their scams backfires and gets them uncomfortably close to an act of terrorism. The female, Bridey, ran to Athens to escape a dysfunctional life back in the US. Boyfriends Milo and Jasper are British expats seeking running from their own existences (one privileged and one not).

Hoffman’s writing is quite good – it’s obvious that she’s a very talented woman and she’s someone I can see myself reading again. The relationships aren’t flimsy constructs, which is important as these relationships are the pillars on the novel. Bridey, Milo and Jasper feel real and lived in.  There’s an interestingly slippery, somewhat dreamy quality to Running; you feel as though you’re sort of slipping through the words and through time. This quality is quite helpful – the action of Running shifts between the group’s existence in Athens and Bridey’s childhood in Washington state. The shifts can feel somewhat disconcerting at times and periodically, it can feel difficult to grasp the meat of a scene. The dreamy quality of the prose really benefits those structural choices – it makes it seem and feel that those shifts are more than just a structural, stylistic choice . It really does truly enhances the haunting atmosphere of the novel and allows you to get a clearer feel for the disorientation the characters themselves feel.  Her prose also never becomes overly involved – it’s restrained and allows you to focus more on what is happening and the feelings it evokes in you, the reader. Reading Hoffman’s prose does not feel like work, nor does it feel as though she’s simply attempting to show off what she’s capable of.  Considering the obvious talent and work that she’s put in, this is a high compliment to pay.

Even still, I find Running difficult to rate – I’m somewhere between this being a 2.5 star and 3 star read for me. Even though I truly liked the quality of the prose and that dreamy, trance-like feel, I found myself not really feeling intrigued with the characters or caring what happened in their stories.  I felt what was real between Jasper, Milo and Bridey; I never questioned that these relationships were true.  There was at no point where I felt that Hoffman had written of the ties more than she wrote the actual ties themselves. I just didn’t care. I didn’t care to spend the time with these characters. I didn’t care that I was seeing these deep bonds and as such, I just could not connect the way a book like this requires. It’s a relatively short book – only 275 pages – and this was the reason I finished it. Had it been a five or six hundred page novel, I’m not certain that I would have finished it. I’m not certain I would have wanted to spend that much time with characters whom I did not actually care what happened to them.  I simply couldn’t connect and as such – it’s really a “It’s not you, it’s me” sort of thing.

Running really is a gem of a novel. It’s simply a gem that I myself couldn’t connect with. I have no doubt that this will really work for a different reader and I sincerely hope it does.

*ARC received from NetGalley in exchange for review