Review: Run Away by Harlan Coben


A perfect family is shattered in RUN AWAY, the new thriller from the master of domestic suspense, Harlan Coben.

You’ve lost your daughter.

She’s addicted to drugs and to an abusive boyfriend. And she’s made it clear that she doesn’t want to be found.

Then, by chance, you see her playing guitar in Central Park. But she’s not the girl you remember. This woman is living on the edge, frightened, and clearly in trouble.

You don’t stop to think. You approach her, beg her to come home.

She runs. 

And you do the only thing a parent can do: you follow her into a dark and dangerous world you never knew existed. Before you know it, both your family and your life are on the line. And in order to protect your daughter from the evils of that world, you must face them head on.

RATING: ☆★☆★

The fathomless love of a parent is a mysterious tunnel, and nobody really knows where it leads. It is this sort of intimacy that Harlan Coben so searchingly explores in this novel.

Coben’s Runaway grips. The author has sculpted a humbling monument to the boundless power—and the sorrow—of parenthood. His novel bleeds unspeakable tenderness, indescribable warmth, and a hard-won hope. There is a tightness in my chest still, as if all the shock and horror of the last few chapters of this book had strained my heart. Days later, I can still feel the tail end of that sweep of a parent’s love, radiant and enchanting and more than a little troubling.

There were many hellish torments that could take death’s place, and Simon Green is familiar with most of them.

What little color Simon normally sees leeched out of the world when his daughter succumbed to a drug addiction that’s wasting her away, as though she’s taken the rest of it with her on her way out the door.

When Simon sees Paige, months later, panhandling in Central Park, he could no more will himself into indifference than he could will himself to stop breathing. Where his daughter has been there was naught but a dim shadow of herself, and Simon’s yearning to get her back—and away from the gnarled raptor clutches of Aaron Corval, her boyfriend and dealer—was a hunger so vast it could have swallowed the world. The anger knifes through Simon’s new-found hope when Paige runs away, and Simon ends up punching Aaron. Someone might have seen a father’s anguish and forgiven Simon’s violence, but when a video of the incident goes viral, Simon is scathingly labeled as the rich white guy victimizing a homeless man.

Three months later, Detective Isaac Fagbenle turns up at Simon’s workplace, carrying the news of Aaron’s murder and Paige’s disappearance. This time, the hopelessness doesn’t come back to Simon, but the reasons for it do. And one thought is carving through Simon’s mind, driving out all else: He must find his daughter no matter the cost. But Simon soon realizes that his understanding of the situation could barely scratch the surface. When his desperate path collides with that of Chicago PI Elena Ramirez who is probing the mysterious disappearance of another young man, thoughts run rampant in Simon’s mind. Hitmen, cults, shootings, more murders…and at the center of it all: his daughter, Paige.

Simon is willing the puzzle to come together in his head and not quite succeeding. The truth was like a stray helium-filled balloon floating on a high-ceiling, and Simon couldn’t grasp it no matter how hard he tried. But one thing is for sure: Whatever secrets will come tumbling out of the closet would draw blood.

“There are threads here,” he said, the words sounding weird coming from his mouth even to him. “Connections. I don’t know what they are, but I feel like I’m missing something. So I’m asking questions and plowing ahead and hoping.”

The cover is perfect for the story underneath it. Runaway’s plot is a confounding maze of paths, eddying round and round, supplying explanations that fit only one half of the facts, or a where but not a why, a what but not a how, feeling—at the same time—tantalizingly close to a breakthrough and no further forward then it had been at the beginning. Yet throughout, the novel impressively maintains a steady, nervy rhythm, which is undoubtedly due to Coben’s enormous ability to pace and pattern his book and the compelling voices his gives his main characters—all ensuring that the story’s hold on the reader’s interest is robust.

When the flashes finally sort themselves into a picture, a terrible sick dread welled up in me. The feeling of weightlessness, that simple mending of the world, that I usually experience when I finish a thriller never arrives. Instead, I was left with a deep, impenetrable mystery and an ending—naked, jolting, indelible in its horror—that is simply too terrible to ever really grasp. I was surprised to find myself conflicted—vacillating between relief and discontent. I wonder, after all, if it wouldn’t have been better to float through that liminal space that came before the truth came to the fore.

The nature of parenthood is, of course, Runaway’s overriding theme, and it’s where the novel gleams the brightest. Coben ponders parenthood with a soul-baring poignancy. The questions he asks land hard enough to leave a bruise, but they’re spun with tender patience. Runaway is, ultimately, the story of two parents who loved their child with the sort of bright, single-focus love that could consume the world if they let it, and who endured the torments of hell to bring her back.

[…] his mother had warned him, “Kids don’t come with  instruction manuals,” and you quickly learn that your child comes to you hardwired, that in the battle of nature vs nurture, nature kicks complete and total ass—still, when things go wrong, when something this dark invades your child’s soul, you can only wonder where the hell you went wrong.

I felt Simon’s emotions, deeper than the grave. Reading his chapters felt almost as intrusive as spying on him through his living-room window. It snagged at me—the heartbreaking anguish of parents who couldn’t protect their daughters, the horror of girls returned with blank faces and violated bodies, and the small, tremulous bird of hope struggling to catch flight. I read, with the awful sensation that my heart was in a vise, as Simon becomes transfixed by a bright knife of realization—a vicious attack of deep weariness and self-reproach magnified to the power of ten: that maybe he had some culpability here, maybe he’d dismissed the signs, maybe he was complicit in creating a fundamental weakness in his daughter’s foundations. The what-ifs pounded through his mind like blood. But there’s a point where blaming himself had to end, and Simon eventually reaches it. All he and his wife could do is throw their daughter a rope. Paige would have to be the one to seize it.

When I finished this book, a wild desire to hear my parents’ voice gripped me. Maybe it was the realization that our parents are just as much flesh and blood, and that flesh and blood are frail and weak and there comes a time when we have to transcend our pasts.

“Love your parents – while we are busy growing up, they are growing old.” 

Highly recommended!

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