Sunday, January 05, 2020

A Run in the Park – an all too brief treat from the pen of David Park

Having missed the first episode but listened to the next three on BBC Radio 4 catch-up on the drive down to an appointment to get stabbed in Newry – a travel vaccination administered by a Boots’ pharmacist rather than anything more sinister – I was delighted to realise that the text of David Park’s ten part series was available in print.

A Run in the Park listens in to the thoughts of some of the participants in a nine-week Couch to 5k programme. I’m shocked, nay devastated, to discover that David Park has taken part in such an exercise regime. I can only trust that this phase of getting his breath in short pants was purely for research purposes and won’t mark the abrupt change of his normal sober and sceptical sensibility that first came to my notice 12 years ago in 2008 with the publication of The Truth Commissioner!

Maurice is a widower who can’t seem to help his family but has decided to step out and tackle his weight and lethargy. Cathy is a sweet librarian who worries about her pregnant daughter in Australia. A young couple are planning a wedding but while a silver spoon was popped in Angela’s mouth shortly after birth, nurse Brendan is unsettled by the ambitious preparations. Yana is perhaps the youngest yet most experienced runner in the group who meet three times a week to train. Exercise was her escape in a sprawling refugee camp before being relocated in Northern Ireland under the UK government scheme to help Syrian families.

The metaphor of individual runners working as a team finds its way into the structure of A Run in the Park. While each episode stands alone as its own short story, they come together to create a powerful narrative about an encouraging cross-generational community, sharing goals, experiencing loss, and the healing power of touch.

It’s a short set of stories, ten internal monologues each spanning nine or ten pages. You can read it end-to-end in a couple of hours. Another one or two hundred pages could have been added to flesh out the backstories and show the reader how Park imagines it all ends. But instead, the accomplished author revels in paring back the detail and leaving every reader or listener to write their own stories for these characters.

Despite the brevity, there are still gut-wrenching scenes from chapter four onwards, and as I switched off the light last night and turned onto my soggy pillow to fall asleep, the pathos of the turmoil facing many of the central characters remained vivid as I closed by eyes. It’s a privilege to join Angela, Brendan, Cathy, Maurice and Yana as they overcome inertia and set their bodies and minds in motion. And hopefully a taster of more fully pledged titles from Park in the near future.

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