Smithson Ide's life so far has led him nowhere. He's 43 years old, weighs 279 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. Once he starts, he can't stop and then he's riding across America to recover his sister. Along the way he meets all sorts of people who help or hinder him. He hears the confession of a priest, he rescues a boy from a snow storm, he has a gun pointed in his face, he's hit by a truck and helps a man dying of AIDS. Smithy's ride is an extraordinary quest, to rediscover the past and memories of Bethany, but it's also his journey back to life.
reviewed by: Janet
As the Memory of Running opens, the main character, an obese middle-aged loner stuck in a dead-end job, finds out that his parents have both died in a car accident. Shortly after their funeral, Smithy (must all these strange guys have equally strange names?) gets a letter informing him that his long-lost, and mentally-unstable, sister Bethany has been found dead on the streets of Los Angeles, a homeless victim of exposure identified only by the dental records her father had continued to send out decades after she ran away from home. Bethany grew up hearing a voice that told here to harm herself, and Smithy seemed to be the only person who understood her - and the only one who could get through to her.
Bethany liked to describe her little brother as a "runner," always on the move, mostly on his bike (confusing, I know, but stay with me here). After the middle-aged, overweight, and drunk Smithy finds out about his sister, he decides to ride his old Schwinn out to L.A. to retrieve her body. So you have the set-up for a dark Quoyle-like character taking Forrest's running-into-people cross-country trip.
Two things save this story from becoming goofy and saccharine like Forrest Gump: one is that the story switches back and forth between Smithy's dealing with his sister in the past and his long bike ride in the present. This allows the story to move between darker and lighter moments (yes, I know that Forrest Gump had its darker parts, but they couldn't make up for all the destracting special effects in the lighter parts). The other is that the people Smithy meets along the way are ordinary people, not Gump's presidents and rock stars. While he seems to have an unusual number of bizarre run-ins, most of them don't seem too far-fetched.
And while the subject matter may seem to be all about death and dying and bleakness, there are plenty of funny moments, both in the past and present stories. And, of course, there are some lessons learned and pounds shed and habits broken as Smithy rides on and on.
As an audiobook, this was excellent, read by McLarty himself. He's known for his voice, & I don't believe anyone could've read this better than he did.
So yeah, pick this up, maybe'll like it more than I did.
The book alternates between past (mostly the story of his mentally ill sister) and the present, mostly his journey across america. I hated Smithy Ide as much as he hated himself. He had redeemed himself a little by the end, but I still found it difficult to grasp what moved him or those around him. I liked finding out about his sister Bethany. But I wish the book would have filled in a little more about her.
A very sad book this, but also moving and often beautiful. The journey through America lets Smithson meet with both suspicion and kindness, but everyday goodness dominates. Also, in balancing the tales of the nice people Smithy meets with the pitch black desperation and despair of the past, the book never falls into the really sentimental. Rather, it seems the very definition of "bittersweet".
Smithy is a very interesting charcater, moving and believable in all his clumsiness and awkwardness. Even his naive sexism is pretty touching. It's his voice that carries the book, along with a keen sense of situation from McLarty. Indeed, there are quite a few situations in this book that I can't recall having ever read before. The horror of being shit-faced drunk when getting word of your parents being in a fatal car accident for instance. Or the overwhelming sadness Smithy feels when getting confronted by his Bethany's psychiatrist with his sister's made-up abuse accusations. All in all, this was a rewarding read, fresh in it's realism.
Smithy’s life is turned upside down when his loving and caring mother and father are killed in an automobile accident and upon opening some mail at their home, discovers that his long lost mentally ill sister, Bethany, remains are being held in California awaiting family retrieval.
In a drunken act, an obese Smithy begins to ride an old Raleigh bicycle he had as a teenager toward a fishing hole he frequented as a youth and then passes out on a grassy knoll. The next day, in almost a mindless state, as if being programmed to ride, this very sore muscled over-weight man continues to bicycle town to town, state to state toward California to claim his beloved sister’s remains.
Akin to Forest Gump who decides to run across American for his own reasons and grow his hair and beard, Smithy Ide to most people appears to be a homeless bum on a bicycle. Hate, fear, prejudice and sickness are encountered on his quest, as well as help and kindness from strangers and a wheelchair bound neighbor, Norma, who has always been in love with Smithy since they were children.
Smithy’s story unfolds from his point of view in simple thoughts and words. In many tangled situations, when an explanation composed of sentences would have helped him out, silence or one or two word responses seem to be his only means of communication leading the reader to empathize and root for this bumbling troubled man.
The Memory of Running by Ron McLarty was an easy read, finishing it quickly in a week. Read it for a book club and enjoyed the story.
Too many short snippets for a chapter and it just wasn't a book I could sink my teeth into and really grab a hold of as it simply jumped too much.
I think the book could have a good depth, but nothing got going long enough before you moved on to another moment in time in Smithy's life. At times it even became more of an annoyance and became even somewhat confusing.
It is a novel that reads like a memoir. The story of a 43 year old man's journey to rediscover himself by taking a bicycle trip across the country after the sudden death of his parents. The story is heartwarming, thought-provoking, and humorous all at the same time. The cast of characters he meets on his excursion are funny, interesting, and frightening at different moments.
A definite winner in my book!!!
Smithson Ide (Smithy) is 43, a self-described loser working at a toy factory, friendless, a chain-smoker, a drunk and seriously overweight (279 lbs), when a family tragedy pushes him to DO something. Coming across his old Raleigh bicycle in a corner of his parents’ garage, Smithy starts pedaling … and then keeps pedaling on a journey across America and towards a new life.
The novel is told in alternating chapters – one giving the background on the Ide family, especially Smithy’s older sister Bethany who suffers from mental illness; the next chronicling the present-day happenings as Smithy bikes from Rhode Island to California. I seem to be reading a number of books lately that use this device, and it’s a difficult one to pull off successfully. McLarty does a pretty good job of it here. The change in perspective is abrupt, but not jarring and I found it easy to follow these parallel stories.
I was a little confused about Norma – the girl next door who suffers a childhood accident that colors the relationship between the two families. She wasn’t as fully developed as I would have liked, and I didn’t really understand the attraction between her and Smithy at first.
Of course, I didn’t really understand Smithy, either. He’s a complicated character and difficult to get to know. He, himself, frequently peppers his own conversations (or thoughts) with “I don’t know.” He is truly a man who has lost himself and his slow reawakening is the whole purpose of this novel. There were times when I wondered if Smithy also suffered from the same sort of mental illness that struck Bethany, but I still grew to like him, and was cheering him on as he made the quest to retrieve his sister.
Along his journey Smithy comes across a variety of characters that help or try to thwart him and express humanity at its best (and sometimes worst). These cameo appearances are brief but well-drawn, and I wish McLarty would write a few more novels about some of them: Father Benny, Carl Greenleaf, Kate and Roger.
McLarty does a fine job of narrating the audio version. His pacing is good, and his style of reading aloud works well for this first-person narrative.