Living with intent, social engagement, learning, growing, giving
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.