Thursday, May 31, 2012
Author: Ron McLarty
Enjoyment Rating: *****
Source: Audible for iPhone
Books I've read this year: 67
If you put the word "running" in the title of your book, it pretty much guarantees that I'm going to want to buy it. However, I can't tell you how many times I've bought a book thinking it was actually going to be about running, only to find that there's no actual running in the book. That's what happens in Ron McLarty's novel The Memory of Running, in which there is plenty of bike riding, but little to no running.
When you read this review, please keep in mind that some of my favorite books are those that meander. I don't mind a book that takes several hundred pages and has lots of what seem to be extraneous details, especially if those details come together in the end. I don't mind a cheesy ending if I've learned to fall in love with and cheer for the characters during the journey. And The Memory of Running is a meandering journey-- Smithy Ide starts out the book in East Providence, RI, where he's lived all but a few months of his life. He doesn't exactly live in his parents' basement-- but pretty close. He works the same job in the factory that hired him twenty years earlier, still vacations with his parents, drinks and smokes too much, has never had a real girlfriend, and weighs 279 pounds. When his parents are killed in a car accident and Smithy returns to his home to find that his mentally ill sister's body has been identified in Los Angeles, he takes off on the Raleigh Cruiser bike he rode as a young boy and starts the ride of his life.
At first, Smithy is out of shape and down on his luck, and people keep mistaking him for a homeless person, but as he rides towards Los Angeles, where he will claim his beloved sister's body, he gains strength, both literal and figurative. His weight loss seems almost incidental to the fact that for the first time in his life, he's getting to know himself, processing what Bethany's illness did to their entire family, and maybe even learning to let his guard down enough to love someone else.
McLarty tells a great story, and I found myself really rooting for Smithy. And yes, even though I could have predicted the ending by page 20, I did cry when we all finally got there.