Reminiscent of another writer who also challenged the status quo with radical politics, Bertolt Brecht, Paley employs innovative techniques that undermine narrative conventions. In “The Long-Distance Runner,” she may have deliberately employed Brecht’s idea of the “alienation effect.” By calling attention to the artistic nature of the play (its artifices), Brecht deliberately destroys the illusion of verisimilitude and the “you-are-there” emotional absorption in the story that writers traditionally have sought. By confounding an audience’s expectations and making them keenly aware of the difference between reality and fantasy, he wants to emotionally distance his audience from the dramatic action in the hope that the audience will ponder the social problems that the work presented.
In “The Long-Distance Runner,” Paley produces the alienation effect by including details that destroy the illusion of verisimilitude and remind the reader that this is a story deliberately crafted by the writer for a purpose. For example, the narrator deliberately undermines the story’s verisimilitude by admitting her inability to decide on an age for Mrs. Luddy, “a slim woman whose age I couldn’t invent.” Like Brecht, Paley does not want the reader to become totally immersed in the story. She calls attention to the artificial nature of storytelling, reminding the reader that this is a made-up story, not reality, so that the reader can be detached and critically consider the complex social problems that are at the core of the work.