Book Talk: 'Run' by Blake Crouch - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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Book Talk: 'Run' by Blake Crouch

Alexander Wallace runs!
Blake Crouch first impressed me with his short story Summer Frost in Amazon Original Stories collection Forward. He was an author I had heard of from reddit, but otherwise had no real contact with his work. When I finished the collection, I thought that Crouch’s story deserved the Hugo nomination that N. K. Jemisin had received for her story Emergency Skin. His story was hands down the best there. Later, I read his novel Recursion (beloved on book nerd reddit) and was blown away. Naturally, I would seek out more of his work.

This brings me to Run, the only standalone of his that my local branch library had at that moment (the system has more). It is one of his earlier works, released in 2011 (ten years old!). Suffice to say, I was not disappointed by this book.

The best comparison I have for Run is Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. Both are narratives about a collapse of civilization focusing around a journey with heavy themes of family. This is not to malign Run; it has plenty of its own merits. The biggest of these, compared with The Road, is that it is written in conventional English rather than McCarthy’s strange way of crafting prose. That works well in The Road, but it isn’t the easiest to read.

Crouch brings his A-game to Run. The man has what all good thriller writers absolutely need: an ability to keep the reader turning the page, no matter if common sense, schedules, or needs for survival say otherwise. A thriller needs to thrill, and a big part of thrill is the anticipation of some resolution to delicately crafted plotlines that ends in a way that is not merely satisfying, but cathartic. This is the sort of book you can easily read a hundred pages of in a single sitting, as was Recursion, and thank heaven for that.

The apocalypse in Run is localized to the United States and some border areas (in which it reminds me of Tom Sweterlitsch’s Tomorrow or Tomorrow or John Birmingham’s Disappearance trilogy); for reasons never explained, an aurora-like light appears in the skies and makes certain people want to kill, maim, or otherwise brutalize other people. Unfortunately for Americans, a great many people saw this light, and society collapsed in short order.

Run revolves around a family of four, that quintessential symbol of American fulfillment: a husband, a wife, a daughter, and a son. As in many stories about such quintessential symbols, it hides an unsavory interior; for one, both husband and wife are unfaithful. They start in Albuquerque and head north. The odyssey they take, on wheels and on foot, will test every aspect of their relationship as they withstand weather and marauder, and manage ever dwindling resources. One of the hallmarks of a ‘civilized’ person in the modern world is how well they treat their family, and as civilization collapses that notion is put to a terrifying test.

This book is brutal psychologically. It never resorts to anything so cheap as gore or mutilation; rather, it takes a far more complex way of brutalizing you. It is the sadism of moral choice that drives Run, as well as the miserable, agonizing fall down Maslow’s hierarchy of needs as the wild nature of humanity comes back to rip us to shreds. To say too much would be to spoil it, but the end result is fascinating and excruciating in equal measure. Those who are looking for their next thriller will be well-served here.

Alexander Wallace is an alternate historian, reader, and writer who moderates the Alternate History Online group on Facebook and the Alternate Timelines Forum on Proboards. He writes regularly for the Sea Lion Press blog and for NeverWas magazine, and also appears regularly on the Alternate History Show with Ben Kearns. He is a member of several alternate history fora under the name 'SpanishSpy.'

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