Tuesday, 1 May 2012

The Memory of Running: A Novel (Author: Ron McLarty)

The Blurb from Amazon:

Once in a great while, a story comes along that has everything: plot, setting, and, most important of all, the kind of characters that sweep readers up and take them on a thrilling, unforgettable ride. Well, get ready for Ron McLarty’s The Memory of Running because, as Stephen King wrote in Entertainment Weekly (Stephen King’s “The Pop of King” column for Entertainment Weekly), “Smithy is an American original, worthy of a place on the shelf just below your Hucks, your Holdens, your Yossarians.”

Meet Smithson “Smithy” Ide, an overweight, friendless, chain-smoking, forty-three-year-old drunk who works as a quality control inspector at a toy action-figure factory in Rhode Island. By all accounts, including Smithy’s own, he’s a loser. But when Smithy’s life of quiet desperation is brutally interrupted by tragedy, he stumbles across his old Raleigh bicycle and impulsively sets off on an epic journey that might give him one last chance to become the person he always wanted to be. As he pedals across America—with stops in New York City, St. Louis, Denver, and Phoenix, to name a few—he encounters humanity at its best and worst and adventures that are by turns hilarious, luminous, and extraordinary. Along the way, Smithy falls in love and back into life.

My Thoughts on The Memory of Running:

I don't want to be too analytical about The Memory of Running because I believe that this is truly a book which does not lend itself to dissection or clever analysis; this is a book which elicits a purely emotional response from the reader. You find yourself not talking about the structure, the character development, the turning points in the book; you just simply go on a journey yourself in the company of the main character, Smithy, and you share every slight and every delight with him. 

In Smithy, Ron McLarty has given us a young man damaged by so many things in life: his sister’s psychiatric problems and the effects of that upon him as a youth; his experiences in Vietnam; his dead-end job; his health issues,  and a lifestyle with the life removed. Leaving behind that shadow-land after the death of his parents, as he travelled - symbolically and literally – across the US in search of his beloved sister, Bethany, he learns to reach out, to reach forward, to step into the unknown, to open himself to what may be lingering there. Sure, there were still bad things happening, but those bad things turned out to have happy consequences, and so Smithy discovers redemption is possible, for himself and for others.

As I write this, I think of a poem I loved at school. I wish I could track it down via the internet, but as yet have had no success doing so, and so I will have to quote what I remember of "The Tiger and the Rose", and I ask you to forgive me if I quote incorrectly: 

I go to know
I go to dare my arm into the thicket
To see what grows there
Whether tiger, or rose
Or tiger and rose together

I think Smithy found that the tiger and the rose do indeed grow together.

Sure, there are twists and turns, there are episodes where you want to sing out, “No, Smithy, watch out behind you”, or to pick him up and put him in a safe place. There are people from whom we expect the worst and find the best, there are people who make us feel optimistic and who then leave us bruised and shaken. Over it all, there is redemption, there is hope, there is a journey to the light.

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