Monday, November 2, 2015

Book Review: "Why They Run the Way They Do" by Susan Perabo

Full disclosure: I received an advance copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an unbiased review. Many thanks to NetGalley and Simon & Schuster for making it available!

I choose to read a book for many different reasons—it's written by an author whose I work I enjoy, it was recommended by a friend or critic, it's one of the "buzzier" books out there at a current time, or it was recently adapted into a movie I missed. But other times my decision to read a book is purely a visual one—first I get intrigued by the cover design, then I pick it up (or look it up online) and see if the plot description draws me in. So while you can't judge a book by its cover, I do often select a book because of it.

All that babble to explain that it was the cover of Susan Perabo's soon-to-be-released story collection, Why They Run the Way They Do, that piqued my interest first. However, after devouring all 12 stories fairly quickly, I'm so thankful the cover design was so intriguing, because otherwise I might have missed an affecting, well-written, memorable collection by an author whose work I'm going to need to keep reading.

The characters in these stories face emotional crossroads of all kinds—spending time with their terminally ill mother, dealing with a serious infatuation with a childhood best friend, being confronted with evidence of an extramarital affair in an unusual way, or trying to help a friend escape a mental hospital so she can commit suicide, for starters. But so many of these stories are more complex than that, even surprising at times. (There's even one story called, of all things, "This is Not That Story," which opens up a number of intriguing plot twists but then cuts them off by saying, "But that is not this story.")

Perabo's voice is so deft; while the majority of her main characters are female, she is equally talented with male protagonists as well. She packs a tremendous amount of heart, character development, and plot into fairly short stories, but they don't ever feel confusing or unfinished. I've always said that for me, the sign of a great story collection is if I am interested and invested enough in the characters to wish that they were part of a full-length novel; I could see that with many of these.

Among my favorites in this collection (and it was hard to narrow it down to just a few to mention in this review) were: "Story Goes," which follows two young female residents of a mental hospital, when one asks the other to help her escape so she can commit suicide; the title story, in which a receptionist must deal with the affair she is having as well as the imminent departure of her best friend and companion; "The Payoff," about two eight graders who witness two teachers in a sexual act—and they make an interesting decision about how to handle it; "Michael the Armadillo," in which a couple must deal with an unusual reminder of one's infidelity; and "A Proper Burial," when a woman spends a weekend with her terminally ill mother before her condition starts to decline.

I've been so blown away by the quality of the short story collections I've read this year, and Why They Run the Way They Do is an excellent addition to that continuously growing list. Fans of short stories: here's another one for you to hopefully enjoy as much as I did!

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