Monday, April 24, 2017


Cara Hoffman's new novel, Running, is set in Athens, Greece and the main characters are "runners" - itinerant people who board trains and try to convince hapless travellers to follow them back to shitty hotels.  In exchange, they get a place to sleep and a few dollars to keep them high or drunk.  It's a rough life for Bridley, an American girl, who made her way to Europe and holds only the high aspiration of sleeping inside at night.  Focused only on the necessities, she doesn't have the luxury of kindness or thoughtfulness. "People think they need things. Money or respect or clean sheets. But they don't. You can wash your hair and brush your teeth with hand soap. You can sleep outside. You can eat whatever's there."

Bridley has been living by her wits for most of her life, abandoned by her parents at 11 and half-raised by a "prepper" uncle, so being semi-homeless in Athens is neither a shock nor much of an adjustment.  She falls in with two British boy/men and shares a room with a half-blasted out wall with a romantic view of the far-away Acropolis. The threesome is sharp, mean and terribly bright - their squat is full of pilfered books and their expressions of true intelligence shock those who get close enough to observe it.  The seeming contradiction of a homeless teenager with brains doesn't compute - much like the brilliant John McLamore from the S-Town podcast takes a minute to process - how could that hillbilly also be a genius?  

Much like Hoffman's So Much Pretty (2013) and Be Safe, I Love You (2014), she moves forward and back in the narrative, teasing out a mystery about what happened in the late eighties in Athens to one of the British boy's current life in present-day New York, where he's an award-winning poet and a visiting artist at a college, unable to adjust to living in a lovely apartment, more at home sleeping on a bench in the park.

Running has many layers, in the title alone - and more I fear I missed.  It's a fine and strong addition to Hoffman's small oeuvre and probably will benefit from multiple readings.  Hoffman has a delicate hand at pulling in current events (violence toward women, PSD in soldiers, terrorism) and the universal and applying them to the individual.  I love her work.