THE WAY PEOPLE RUN by Christopher Tilghman


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Separation anxiety and strong emotion repressed almost to the point of suffocation are the constants that are analyzed—with sometimes excessive precision—in this otherwise impressive gathering of six carefully crafted stories by the author of an earlier collection, In a Father’s Place (1990), and the novel Mason’s Retreat (1996). The premises and animating situations are often quite striking here. “The Late Night News,” for example, forces a complacent widower and ex-husband into panicked self-doubt when a teenaged burglar (“a messenger from the dark”) violates his isolation and security. A husband and father heading home from a job-hunting trip finds in a “ruined” western town (in the moody title story), a chastening reflection of his own unhappy domesticity. “Something Important” about his endangered marriage is revealed to a cautious high-school English teacher by the boorish older brother he disrespects and mistrusts. And a New Englander returned to his late mother’s Montana ranch (in “Room for Mistakes”) makes peace as best he can with his taciturn, cleareyed stepfather. The mingled intimacy and unknowing we share and suffer as family members are unforgettably dramatized in the best pieces. In “A Suitable Good-bye,” thirtysomething freelance consultant Lee travels with his widowed mother and young nephew on a mission to find the grave of her father, who had abandoned his family decades ago—and learns that their journey has been a gesture intended to soothe Lee’s own incompletion and loneliness. And the superb “Things Left undone” charts the emotional odyssey of dairy farmer Denny McCready and his wife Susan, their marriage ripped apart when their infant son dies of inherited cystic fibrosis, then tentatively given the possibility of repair as they labor to forgive each other and themselves. There’s a little of Tobias Wolff in Tilghman’s rigorous focus on how family concerns define us and haunt us. The way his people run occasionally feels contrived, but in his best stories we feel deeply for them and wish them safely home again.

Pub Date: May 1st, 1999
ISBN: 0-679-44971-X
Page count: 224pp
Publisher: Random House
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15th, 1999


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