The Memory of Running, By Ron McLarty, Time Warner Books
“When you think about death, there’s really nothing else like it”
The Memory of Running is the story of a fat guy going on a bike ride. Obviously there’s more to the book than that, but what makes this novel so endearing, and it is a very likeable book, is the way that the narrator-protagonist, Smithy Ide, always keeps this essential fact close to the reader’s mind: Fat Guy going on a Bike Ride.
Smithy Ide, you see, has been in a state of inertia for the last 20 years; sedated by the routine of his dead-end job, heavy drinking, and over-eating, he has essentially stopped living and become someone to whom life simply happens. The near-simultaneous but unconnected deaths of both Smithy’s parents and his beloved but long-lost sister, Bethany serve to kick-start Smithy’s life anew.
The Memory of Running goes on to become a tale of stubbornness and determination, and a timely celebration of the mundane and the ordinary. The story alternates between the various misadventures of Smithy’s two-month bicycle odyssey – his unplanned ‘quest’ across America to confront the body of his sister – and a series of chronologically ordered flashbacks of his earlier life, particularly his family’s attempts to deal with the eccentricities of the schizophrenic Bethany. Smithy’s trek across America provides the backdrop for the readers trek into Smithy’s past, to unravel the secrets behind his 20-year inertia and the motivations for his strange expedition.
McLarty expertly employs a flat, dirty realist tone of dry observations to express the simple realities of existence through Smithy’s eyes. Rather than dulling the narrative, the sparse vocabulary and frank straightforwardness with which this tale is written creates a connection between the characters and the reader far surpassing what many writers are able to achieve with unnecessarily frilly poetics and self-indulgent charlatanism. Often witty and at times deeply emotional, McLarty’s style is as plain, as unflatteringly honest as incredibly likeable as his main character.
Definatetly recommended for people who like Raymond Carver but are bored with short stories, and for anyone who likes chuckling at fat people’s expense.