Kate Carlson’s “Running” is a beautifully sparely written, nearly minimalist, narrative about three young Western on the run in Athens, Greece. They are two men, who are gay, and one woman, all around twenty years old, one man from upper class England, who literally walks out of Eton one day, and meets up with a lower middle class black man from the Northern industrial slums of England.  The young woman, whose parents were killed in a car crash and who’s been raised by her 24-year old survivalist uncle in rural Washington State, probably has the most survival skills.  All three find themselves as “runners”, wherein they hop trains from, say, the Athens airport and try to hornswaggle tourists into staying at the seedy hotel for which they, in a sense, work; it’s their job to con these people out of enough money by lying to them about the alleged amenities of the hotel , for which they get a room at the very top of the building in which to live. They have found, and live in and amongst, the seediest parts of Athens. 

Their work and their interactions with naive tourists are brilliantly rendered/delineated by Carlson, as are the fights which routinely break out between and amongst various runners on these trains, all fighting for a limited amount of business–and survival.

But the relationships that develop amongst these three adolescents is utterly beautiful, as each of the three truly loves each of the other three.  The young woman is completely comfortable with the same sex relationship between the two men; there are ambiguous moments, too,  wherein she and one of the men also fall into an occasional sexual relationship. Each of the three does, really, reflect the background from which he or she came, and the rich Etonian’s inability to stop spending limited monies on luxuries is particularly well described; he is the truly self-destructive one of the three.  These three will lose one another, as they wander from place to place, but near the end, two do find one another, and will live almost paradisically for awhile on a Greek island, in some of the most beautiful writing about relationships on the lam that I’ve read since the sixties.  Running is a very powerful book, more than the reader may be prepared for; the minimalist writing is the reason for the strong emotional charge the reader will get while reading this novel.  And even though the black man will end up teaching and writing poems and stories about his life, back in New York, he will never cease longing for the other two travelers of his youth, nor will he ever find them again.

“Running” is thus a truly exceptional rite of passage novel.  The three main characters (and some of the secondary characters with whom they interact) are brilliantly rendered; we are sympathetic to them, if occasionally annoyed, too; these three really do represent a kind of floating underclass wandering around and through large urban centers all over the world, barely surviving, often on drugs and alcohol, but they possess that invulnerability so common to late teenage years, and Carlson’s got their characters so well drawn that we find ourselves really rooting for them.  You’ll be amazed at how much this novel will move you; Kate Carlson’s written quite an exceptional and strong novel in “Running”, which I recommend wholeheartedly.

–Daniel Brown

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