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Book Review: The Memory of Running by Ron McLarty
Thank you! It was released as an audiobook in He once weighed , running or biking everywhere. As the story opens, his parents are killed in a car accident. Then he learns that his older sister Bethany is in a Los Angeles morgue, and the shock impels Smithy to heave his fat self onto his childhood bike.
Smithson Ide's life so far has led him nowhere. He's 43 years old, weighs pounds, and keeps himself numb with food and alcohol. His only emotional ties are to his parents and to the memory of his older sister, Bethany, who has been missing for 20 years. Then his parents die in a car crash and he learns of Bethany's death in LA County. Suddenly there isn't enough beer in the world to keep Smithy from his feelings. Drunk and bereft, he takes his old Raleigh bicycle and starts cycling.
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Smithy Ide is a really nice guy. But he's also an overweight, friendless, womanless, hard-drinking, year-old self-professed loser with a breast fetish and a dead-end job, given to stammering "I just don't know" in life's confusing moments. When Smithy's entire family dies, he embarks on a transcontinental bicycle trip to recover his sister's body and rediscover what it means to live. Along the way, he flashes back to his past and the hardships of his beloved sister's schizophrenia, while his dejection encourages strangers to share their life stories. The road redeems the innocent Smithy: he loses weight; rescues a child from a blizzard; rebuffs the advances of a nubile, "apple-breasted" co-cyclist after seeing a vision of his dead sister; and nurtures a telephone romance with a paraplegic family friend as he processes his rocky past. McLarty, a playwright and television actor, propels the plot with glib mayhem—including three tragic car accidents in 31 pages and a death by lightning bolt—and a lot of bighearted and warm but faintly mournful humor.
A person then has to happen himself. I have never done this. Life bounced off me, and bounced me, and now it was going to bounce me to death. He has no friends, no spouse, no lover—just his elderly parents and a head full of painful memories. When unexpected tragedy strikes, these memories and a few drinks too many launch Smithy on an improbable cross-country bicycle odyssey. Cycling westward, Smithy gets mistaken for a homeless vagrant, a con man, and a child molester—and gets run over, beat up, and threatened with a gun. As he reaches out to people in trouble he meets along the road, and in turn experiences the kindness of strangers, Smithy begins to face up to his past.
Stories about loners and losers won't go away -- a good thing. The distortions and exaggerations of isolation can provide fresh perspective on what gets called normal. The challenge comes in sustaining dramatic interest in a closed-down or cast-off character. How to do so without giving way to sentimentality or ridicule becomes a measure of a writer's success. Dave King certainly placed a major obstacle in the path of his accomplished, moving first novel. Howard Kapostash, the narrator of "The Ha-Ha," thinks straight, but can barely speak and can't write or use sign language. His one dependable word, "not," stands in for more meanings than it reliably conveys.