Why They Run the Way They Do by Susan Perabo

Book Reviews Reading

Why They Run the Way They Do
Why They Run the Way They Do by Susan PeraboWhy They Run the Way They Do by Susan Perabo
Published by Simon & Schuster on February 16th 2016
Genres: Fiction, Short Stories
Pages: 208
Format: Kindle Edition
Source: Publisher
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From the celebrated author of Who I Was Supposed to Be comes twelve beautiful short stories celebrating the everyday truths of people facing unusual or challenging situations…often of their own making.

Only recently have I become a fan of short stories; I don’t think I started reading them until after college, when a collection was recommended to me by a friend (by author Alice Munro) and I fell in love with the format. For an avid reader, I think I have a relatively short attention span; this certainly poses a problem when a novel doesn’t “grab” me in the beginning, and I often choose novels based on my initial reaction to the description. Short stories might seem to be the optimal solution but, again, it often depends on the subject matter.

I was initially attracted to Why They Run the Way They Do for the title since, as you probably know, I love running; secondarily, I was attracted to the fact that it is a collection of short stories and that Jenny Offill, author of Dept. of Speculation, wrote a glowing recommendation. This turned out to be a great decision, in spite of the fact that it has nothing to do with running; this is my first five-star read of 2016.

As I type this, I feel inadequately skilled to “review” this collection; to say that I was moved by these stories would be a monumental understatement. A few days after finishing, I was still thinking about a couple of the stories and I’d really like to go back and reread the entire collection; instead, I’ve limited myself to about three of the stories. I had a short text message discussion with Sarah at Sarah’s Book Shelves (and you should check out her thoughts here) about a couple of these stories and I would love to be in a book club where I could discuss this with many other readers; it’s just that good. At 208 pages, you have no excuse NOT to read this one; please, go read it, and then return and tell me what you think. 

Rather than describe the stories or try to tell you about my reaction to each of them, I’ll leave you with a few quotes so that you can see how you respond; if you’re interested, at all, READ THESE! You will not be disappointed.

“The Payoff”

I had two little brothers, Nick and Sam. Their lives revolved around farting, Indian burns, and the timeworn torture of repeating everything you said, repeating everything you said. Someday I would enjoy the company of them both, my mother assured me, but until then I would need to exercise tolerance.

“Michael the Armadillo”

He hated her, so he wasn’t going to leave her. And he loved her, so he wasn’t going to leave her. She wanted him to do the dirty work, make it easy for her, open the door to her new life? Ha!

“This Is Not That Story”

It wasn’t the anticipation of actually delivering the news that was suffocating the chaplain. He just wanted it to be over. He did not like knowing what they didn’t know. He had a secret, and once the secret was told, nothing would ever be the same for the people to whom he was going to tell it.

“Life off My E”

Lizzie can’t understand how a person can not be competitive. Once, after I lost twenty-three consecutive games of Othello in a single weekend and remained a good sport about it, Lizzie told me I should apply for disability on the basis of my sustained indifference.


What I loved about smoking, after my first day as a smoker, maybe even after my first puff, was that a cigarette was a thing to reach for every single time I wanted to reach for something. It was a permanent answer to the persistent question now what? Perched awkwardly on the couch, my afternoons structureless, my brain dully cluttered – now what to do? Oh, yes – now for a cigarette! An easy answer, a familiar routine, a predictable experience.




About Susan Perabo

Susan Perabo

Susan Perabo is Writer in Residence and Professor of English at Dickinson College in Carlisle, PA. She is the author of the collections of short stories, Who I Was Supposed to Be and Why They Run the Way They Do, and the novel, The Broken Places. Her fiction has been anthologized in Best American Short Stories, Pushcart Prize Stories, and New Stories from the South, and has appeared in numerous magazines, including One Story, Glimmer Train, The Iowa Review, The Missouri Review, and The Sun.

  • Sold! I too tend to shy away from short stories yet, with my hectic life, they actually make perfect sense! Thanks Tara!

    • Allie, it’s SUCH a great read; I really hope you are able to get to it. It shouldn’t take you long, and you can easily read little snippets here and there; I know you stay busy. Please let me know if you get to it; would love to hear your thoughts!

  • Thank you so much for getting me to read this! And – I think we need to work at getting this some attention – I feel like this totally deserves attention, but has been relatively quiet so far. I know Kerry at Entomology of a Bookworm loved it, but I haven’t seen her officially review it.
    And – love your quotes…especially the one from Michael the Armadillo and the one about being competitive (I’m on team Lizzie, incidentally!)..

    • Sarah, I agree with you completely; I have seen VERY LITTLE buzz around this one and I requested the galley so long ago that I couldn’t even remember where it came from until I looked on my handy dandy spreadsheet. I’m going to have to talk about this one a lot, which won’t be too difficult; it is so great!

  • And another book that’s been added to my list! I need to take like a week off of work to get some serious reading done! 🙂

    • Girl, you and me both! GAH! This is a REALLY, really good one and it won’t take you long to read it; you’ll HAVE to let me know what you think!

  • Cathy Mores

    I totally said YES out loud when you mentioned wanting to talk about the stories with others. This would be a great book club book — I think the discussions that come of it would be thoughtful and introspective. I’m about halfway through it right now and am loving it. It’s so, so good.

  • Short stories are so perfect for me right now! I am so short on time – this would be right up my alley. Thanks Tara for always giving us wonderful books to choose from!! xo

    • Natalie, this one is really a great choice because you can pick it up whenever you have little snippets of time; I hope you’ll give it a try! Thanks so much and have a great weekend!

  • Short stories haven’t always been my cup of tea either, but I know I can always read any published by Margaret Atwood. Love her.

    • Oh, I am an Atwood fan, as well, Pam! Never a dull moment! You should give this one a try; I think you might enjoy it and the stories are short enough that you can read whenever you have a little snippet of time. Thanks so much!