Longlisted for the Center for Fiction’s 2021 First Novel Prize • A rich, bighearted debut that takes us from working-class Staten Island in the wake of the September 11th attacks to moneyed London a decade later, revealing a story of loss, motherhood, and love.
As the Twin Towers collapse, Gigi Stanislawski flees her office building and escapes lower Manhattan on the Staten Island Ferry. Among the crying, ash-covered, and shoeless passengers, Gigi, unbelievably, finds someone she recognizes--Harry Harrison, a British man and a regular at her favorite coffee shop. Gigi brings Harry to her parents' house, where they watch the television replay the planes crashing for hours, and she waits for the phone call that will never come: the call from Frankie, her younger brother.
Ten years later, Gigi, now a single mother consumed with bills and unfulfilled ambitions, meets Harry, again by chance, and they fall deeply, headlong in love. But their move to London and their new baby--which Gigi hoped would finally release her from the past--leave her feeling isolated, raw, and alone with her grief. As Gigi comes face-to-face with the anguish of her brother's death and her rage at the unspoken pain of motherhood, she must somehow find the light amid all the darkness. Startlingly honest and shot through with unexpected humor, When I Ran Away is an unforgettable first novel about love--for our partners, our children, our mothers, and ourselves--pushed to its outer limits.