The Way People Run

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

In his acclaimed first novel, Mason’s Retreat (1996), Christopher Tilghman examines tensions within a Maryland family at mid-century. The Way People Run explores some of the same themes in several American locales.

In “Something Important,” a brother tells a Maryland man that his wife is having an affair. “Room for Mistakes” presents a Massachusetts man, estranged from his family, who returns to his mother’s Montana ranch after her death. A lonely rich man on his Maryland family estate confronts a burglar in “The Late Night News.” A New Yorker in “A Suitable Good-bye” accompanies his mother and nephew to Hattiesburg, Mississippi, to find the grave of his grandfather. In “The Way People Run,” an unemployed New Yorker visits his grandfather’s Western hometown. Set on a Maryland dairy farm, “Things Left Undone” depicts a marriage falling apart after the death of a young son.

Tilghman resembles John Cheever and John Updike with his insight into the mores of middle-class American life. His characters are defined by their absorption in the details of daily life and by their realization of the tenuousness of their lives. With their trips into their families’ pasts and sense of dislocation both from their roots and their current existences, his characters strongly resemble the protagonists of Wright Morris, especially in “Room for Mistakes,” the most affecting of these stories.

Tilghman’s fiction is admirable for its compassion for the characters’ failures, his sense of how place and family shape character, and his insight into the emotional distance often separating people from those they love or want to love.