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Book review: ‘Running’ offers vivid characters, original dialogue

In Cara Hoffman’s “Running,” we find ourselves in a world within a world none of us will likely have visited. It is the seedy hotel and red-light district of 1980s Athens. For a while, three young people–call them drifters, seekers, ex-pats–share a room there.

Jasper, a derelict English aristocrat, is carrying on an affair with Milo, a British person of color and working-class boxer with literary ambitions. They survive as “runners” who board trains to Athens and hand out hotel brochures. They room free and quickly drink up their meager pay.

On one ride, Jasper comes across Bridey, an American teen and orphan in flight from a survivalist relative in the Northwest woods. Soon they are a threesome. Bridey is fascinated by Jasper’s aura, despite his serious mental issues, but has more serious designs on Milo.

Less in revolt than bummed by the dominant culture, they form an enclave of free spirits. At least they do until getting caught up in some terrorism business forces them to split. These episodes are bracketed by updates to the present.

Milo has proven to be a talented poet and is hired by a New York school, but he is still the outsider, more at home sleeping rough, schmoozing with the homeless and cruising for prospective lovers. Jasper’s fate is noted only in a news item, and Bridey–well, Milo is still hunting for her. All three are vividly etched; the writing, especially the dialogue, is brilliantly original.

As for plot, it’s pretty much shunned, too much of a mainstream hassle, and, come down to it, would get in the way.

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