There were two things about Kelly Luce’s book Pull Me Under that instantly sold me on it. The first was that the main character, Rio Silvestri–formerly Chizuro Akitani–was an ultra runner. In reading a lot of memoirs of endurance athletes, there is something fascinating about people who push their bodies to their absolute limits. Cyclists often brag about being able to “suffer” more than their competitors. The motivations that drive people to that sort of physical feat is fascinating.
The other thing was the fact that the book begins with a 12 year old girl walking into a teacher’s lounge covered in blood. When people rushed to investigate, she held up her hands and said, “This is not my blood.”
Boom! It was the only book that I specifically requested for Christmas this year. I just finished it this week.
Let’s talk about the running part first. I’ve read books about ultra runners before, but they were research based, and I was really curious about a character who is so driven because I wanted to be able to empathize with that drive. To be able to put myself in that person’s shoes (See what I did there? *I am so sorry*). But as someone who used to never understand paying money to run a race, or getting up early run with strangers, or even just running more than 3 miles at once, and who has since found real satisfaction in running longer and longer distances, the drive to run 50+ miles at a time becomes something I am curious about. Something I would like to understand more fully.
There are moments when Rio says things about running that I completely get.
I can’t remember the last time I went so long without the catharsis of sweat, the rhythm of my heart telling me, I’ve got this. I’ll take care of you. Just go. I don’t like how I feel when I haven’t run; it’s like my brain and my body are fused.
In the last few weeks, I have felt what Luce describes as the itch in the legs that comes from wanting to run. To work through the cycle of warm up, sweat, cool down.
There is also this:
This was about getting my mind to a place where it knew when to listen to its body but also when to pat its head like a good child.
The book talks about running as a solitary act, a thing Rio does for herself. Which I totally understand. I have started admitting that riding bikes is actually fun, and running is never really “fun.” Running is hard, and it is satisfying. That’s why I do it. Because I am able to push myself and see improvement even though running never really seems to get easier.
In that sense, it was reassuring to read those thoughts that I have had and feel understood. From that perspective, I wish there was more running.
But there was also the matter of a 12 year old girl covered in blood that was not her own. Before she became Rio, Chizuro was a young girl who killed a fellow student. The main story of the novel does a lot to piece together the factors that contributed to that event as she returns to Japan in the wake of her father’s death.
I read several reviews that talked about how the book was really about how there are many different versions of who we actually are. The mediocre English student in me was worried that if I read the book I wouldn’t pick up on this thing that everyone felt was so obvious, but really, it is pretty hard to miss. Demonstrating that thesis in some ways makes the narrative feel a little forced in places. Like the metaphor sometimes took precedence over plot. However, there is something a the core of this struggle that I love.
Rio is married to someone who does not know about the murder. She has gone so far as to make up stories of a childhood she never had, to create a false history for herself. When she goes back to Japan, she doesn’t want her family to come with her because she is afraid of them finding out about her past. And this lie seems both pretty unforgivable and also completely understandable.
This is something else I wish we had gotten more of in this story, though it takes us further away from the story Luce seems most interested in telling. But I get the idea that there is something in your life that is so troubling it would be hard to get past. It makes sense to lie. Of course, you wouldn’t confess it. What date is the appropriate time to say, “By the way, I once killed a kid”? The first date seems like the wrong time, but the longer you don’t say it, the harder it is to work that little nugget in.
I do like that Luce depicts the struggle that Rio’s husband has when he finds out. It is not easily glossed over. But it is the sort of conundrum that I think makes for good fiction and that I wish more stories explored in a real way, and it is one of the things that I enjoy about reading fiction.