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Book Reflections – The Memory of Running by Ron McLarty

I was attracted to this book because the word running is in the title and the cover art appealed to me. It held the promise of something different. The Memory of Running by Ron McLarty lived up to my expectations in that it certainly was different. Curiously there isn’t any actual running in the book but there was bicycle riding.

This book compelled me for the final three quarters but until then I was not captivated. In retrospect I understand that the first quarter of the book was designed to show how isolated and destructive Smithson Ide’s life was. It isn’t fun reading about an obese alcoholic with low self esteem and no friends. The turning point is when Smithy embarks on an impromptu ride without a fixed destination. He unwittingly detoxifies his system and rides his way to good cardiovascular fitness and less body fat. Along the way he decides on a destination and begins to enjoy the long ride despite the difficulties.

As Smithy rides across the country we learn about his sad family life, his sister’s psychotic episodes, the reason his wheelchair-confined neighbour is angry but loves him, and Smithy’s Vietnam War experiences. His love and devotion for his sister is complete and pure. It made me inspect my relationships with my brothers. His uncle Count is wildly inappropriate and tells discriminatory jokes to everyone regardless of the setting, even at the joint funeral of Smithy’s parents.

When Smithy was a child and his sister Bethany would listen to ‘the voice’ she would disappear and Smithy and his parents would dedicate all of their efforts to finding her. Smithy’s father wouldn’t discuss these episodes or his emotions with Smithy. Poor Smithy is emotionally underdeveloped and unprepared for the trauma of the Vietnam War.

The highlights of the book are Smithy’s experiences with random strangers on his path to normalcy. On his epic journey he was run-over, punched and shot but the interactions he had with strangers healed him. He began to experience a small range of emotions that he had been suppressing through alcohol his entire adult life.

I liked the short chapters. I suppose it is written like a film with Smithy becoming desperate and penniless at regular junctions on the journey but being rescued by a different stranger each time. This is an interesting story that left me feeling sad.

This review in the New York Times is worth reading if you are interested in the book.

8 comments on “Book Reflections – The Memory of Running by Ron McLarty

  1. indiefan20
    November 28, 2018

    I’ve been wanting to read this novel for a long time because I’m usually interested in books that involve mental illness. I’m not an alcoholic like Smithy (which admittedly, is not really a mental illness) and I don’t have schizophrenia (?) like his sister but I do have OCD and depression and I like characters who are struggling with mental health challenges. Your review reminds me that I’ve been meaning to read this forever and I should probably get it from the library soon. Thanks! 🙂

    • strivetoengage
      November 29, 2018

      Hello! Thank you for taking the time to leave a comment. In the New York Times review that I cited at the end of my post I read about another book about a loner. I’ve added it to my Good Reads list. Admittedly it doesn’t seem to involve mental illness but there is addiction, neglect and disability.
      I read widely and I’m always appreciative when an author uses empathy when presenting characters that are facing challenges that are intimately tied to their identity.
      Reading about Smithy I felt a deepening of an already advanced feeling of empathy for the people around me who are visibly coping with addiction, atypical behaviour etc and social isolation.
      I’m interested to know what draws you to read books that involve mental illness. Is it to have the opportunity to gain a different perspective or do you feel a sense of pleasure that what was once a taboo in the Victorian age is now widely supported?

      • indiefan20
        November 29, 2018

        I guess I’m a reader (and writer) who’s very interested in characters as opposed to plot and authors who get into the inner workings of characters mind, and I find it easier to relate to characters who have some of the same issues as me (OCD, depression, Asperger’s, undiagnosed Bipolar Disorder.) They sometimes mirror my own experiences and I like to see how these kinds of things are portrayed. 🙂

  2. Anna
    November 28, 2018

    Hmm…. Not sure this would be my cup of tea. I sometimes think I should read more outside of my usual genres that I like, but I just can’t bring myself to! I’m very stuck in my ways.

    • strivetoengage
      November 29, 2018

      In Year 11 I recall asking a friend why he always had the same haircut. His response was ‘Why change a winning formula’.

    • strivetoengage
      November 29, 2018

      There are so many books to be read that it’s important to weigh the opportunity cost of an unknown over a known anticipated pleasure. I’m not sure why my reading is so eclectic but I do enjoy reading widely (yet narrowly because I don’t touch most genres)

      • Anna
        November 29, 2018

        You are spot on. Why try and trudge through a book that doesn’t bring enjoyment?

  3. Pingback: Book Reflections – Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman | strivetoengage

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