Runner, by Parker Williams
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Release Date: July 28, 2017
Rating: 2 out of 5 stars
Matt Bowers’s life ended at sixteen, when a vicious betrayal by someone who he should have been able to trust left him a shell of himself, fighting OCD and PTSD, living in constant fear and always running. When he buys a remote tract of land, he thinks he’s found the perfect place to hide from the world and attempt to establish some peace. For ten years he believes he’s found a measure of comfort, until the day a stranger begins to run on Matt’s road.
He returns every day, an unwelcome intrusion into Matt’s carefully structured life. Matt appeals to the local sheriff, who cannot help him since the jogger is doing nothing wrong. Gradually, after tentatively breaking the ice, Matt begins to accept the man’s presence—
But when the runner doesn’t show up one day, it throws Matt’s world into chaos and he must make the hardest decision of his life.
Mental Health Issues
Content Warning for:
Past Sexual Assault
The first quarter of this story flew by for me, and I had just settled in to enjoy the rest of it when the book sort of went off the rails at the 25% mark. Miller has set himself a particular challenge that he doesn’t quite reach: handling a story that essentially has one setting (Matt’s house). Setting a story in a static location has its challenges, not least of which is trying to make us believe in a relationship built on the slimmest of interactions. In my opinion, Miller doesn’t succeed.
We are solely in Matt’s head for this story, and he’s still dealing with trauma from an attempted sexual assault by his teacher when he was in high school. He has PTSD and developed OCD as a result of the incident, and has anxiety attacks throughout the story. There are some important background issues related to this that are glossed over in order to bring us to the present day: Matt drops out of school entirely at 16, refuses therapy for two years, and then buys property and builds a house with his settlement money at 18 to become a recluse.
I was willing to accept this chain of events for the sake of the story as I read it, but the more I think about as I write this review, the more I question all of it. Primarily, what on earth was Matt’s mother doing during these two years, and how long will Matt’s settlement last him after he bought property, a house, a lifetime of property taxes starting from age 18, and has no job? To me, these are fundamental questions related to Matt’s growth and his agency in the world that are entirely ignored by the story.
There are times in the story where Matt does feel like he’s still 16, maturity-level wise. This isn’t helped by the fact that Charlie is an impossibly angelic character, who, in my reading, seems to inhabit both a romantic and a parental role towards Matt. I was willing to accept that Charlie was a patient and understanding man, and to respect him for it, until we get to this passage:
“That got a belly laugh out of [Charlie]. ‘Oh, I am not so perfect. You know how you are about your stuff? I’m the same way with my writing. I hate it when a story isn’t going like I want. I’ll fuss and fume about it, cuss to myself. Hell, I’ll even yell at the characters if they’re not behaving like they’re supposed to. So not perfect, and I would appreciate it if you don’t put me on a pedestal, because it gives me that much further to fall.'”
This is seriously presented to us as a “character flaw” for Charlie, and, in fact, his only flaw. This felt deeply imbalanced to me, and honestly not very fair to partners of people with mental health issues – as if the only way to be a good partner is to have perfect days every day, and to have no needs that also must be navigated and negotiated in the relationship. After this passage, I lost interest in Charlie as a character, not to mention that his career as an author got a little too meta and on-the-nose for me.
There are many instances of characters screaming, snarling, or snapping throughout the story, all of which felt misplaced and misused, and which further made the characters seem overly childish or overly aggressive. So the beginning of this one is strong, but it loses its way pretty quickly and tested my patience as it moved towards an overly saccharine ending.
Parker Williams began to write as a teen, but never showed his work to anyone. As he grew older, he drifted away from writing, but his love of the written word moved him to reading. A chance encounter with an author changed the course of his life as she encouraged him to never give up on a dream. With the help of some amazing friends, he rediscovered the joy of writing, thanks to a community of writers who have become his family.
Parker firmly believes in love, but is also of the opinion that anything worth having requires work and sacrifice (plus a little hurt and angst, too). The course of love is never a smooth one, and Happily Ever After always has a price tag.
You can purchase Runner from:
Barnes & Noble
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I received an advanced copy of this novel in exchange for a fair and honest review.