RUN, ROSE, RUN. By Dolly Parton and James Patterson. Petit, Brown and company. 448 pages. $30.
The country music star’s grit and glamor shine through in Dolly Parton and James Patterson’s “Run, Rose, Run.” This thriller isn’t Patterson’s first celebrity collaboration, and he’s not the only novelist to do so. But as a lifelong Parton fan, this reviewer can’t think of a more anticipated collaboration.
The book tells how the past haunts. After a harrowing experience of hitchhiking, AnnieLee Keyes arrives in Nashville, like so many others, to become a country musician. His poverty and desperation, especially in these early scenes, are tangible. At night, she sleeps under a bush in a park in a sleeping bag she has pawned her guitar so she can afford. During the day, she hides her meager belongings and then goes to every dive bar with a scene for the chance to perform. The lyrics of the songs run through her head and her mysterious past haunts her in every dark corner.
When AnnieLee takes the stage at the Cat’s Paw Saloon, her stomach growls, but her talent is evident. And she catches the eye of a session musician named Ethan who works for country legend Ruthanna Ryder. AnnieLee, playing on a borrowed guitar, shines on stage. She’s so good that Ethan insists his boss come down to see her.
Ruthanna, who is also haunted by a loss from her past, has long run the gauntlet to stardom. She’s famous, lines her walls with gold records, has more money than she could ever spend, and has retired from the spotlight. For her, writing songs and making music in her basement recording studio is something she does for herself. When Ruthanna meets AnnieLee and sees how tough and determined the talented young woman is, Ruthanna helps her launch a career that skyrockets from there.
Within months, AnnieLee had become the hottest new thing in country music. Her songs are on the radio, she has a team of managers and publicists, and she has a recording contract. But the music business is tough. The book doesn’t shy away from the harsh realities of what it takes to succeed. Women are judged, get less air time and are often viewed as a threat by their male colleagues.
Parton and Patterson brought the music industry to life with this story, and reading it is both fun and eye-opening. AnnieLee and Ruthanna are strong female characters who reflect Parton’s experiences and wisdom in a way that makes you feel like you’re sitting next to her on an Appalachian summer afternoon, sipping a rose in the garden of the queen of country music herself.
When AnnieLee bubbles up on stage, it’s easy to forget that this woman isn’t who she claims to be. As she and Ethan, a handsome veteran with a dark past, spend time together and grow closer, everything they can’t say builds like a wall. And AnnieLee’s new visibility makes AnnieLee more vulnerable to the demons she tries to outrun.
From the first pages, we know that AnnieLee’s life is in danger. And we know she’s desperate enough to carry a gun in her backpack and she’s ready to use it. But the authors don’t reveal much about the real AnnieLee until everything falls apart around her near the end of the book. Throughout history, the question of his past is posed; all readers know is that it’s so bad she can’t talk about it.
Leaving a question like this unanswered can be risky if the reveal doesn’t justify the buildup, but in this case, the authors succeeded. And AnnieLee’s secrets, which this reviewer won’t spoil, give the story a depth and weight that elevates it beyond the typical page-turner.
There’s a lot to love about this celebrity collaboration: the music, the celebrity thrills, and the suspense. But perhaps the greatest pleasure is the time spent with Dolly Parton. Patterson is there to turn the pages, as he is so famous for doing, but it’s Parton who tells us this story. Her voice and sensitivity sparkle, and fans won’t be disappointed.
Critical Melinda Copp is a freelance writer based in Bluffton.