The Memory of Running

by Ron McLarty

Paperback, 2005




Penguin Books (2005), Edition: Reprint, 384 pages


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.… (more)

Media reviews

Although Mr. McLarty's book is not wildly original, it has a generic likability and the upward trajectory of a shy guy's recovery from loneliness. Its itinerary is also wry enough to sustain interest, as when Bethany winds up in a hippie commune that believes in the sanctity of vegetables. Smithy's actual bike trip is punctuated by encounters with people and books (his revived interest in reading provides a small, amusing subplot) that affirm its underlying faith in human nature. For all the hardships and wrong turns it describes, "The Memory of Running" amounts to a string of happy accidents. In this story, which has a dark side but no real shadows, even being hit by a pickup truck can turn out to be a life-affirming vignette.

User reviews

LibraryThing member heathereb
I loved this book! Smithy Ide is such a loveable character, along the lines of Forrest Gump with his naive and trusting view of the world. The characters he meets on his journey do not always treat him with the trust and compassion that he deserves. MccLarty paints a fasinating and wholly believable view of the wide range of people and views present in modern-day America. A beautiful read!… (more)
LibraryThing member berylweidenbach
A very good book! Anyone at any time can redeem themselves. Smithy led a sad life. told through flashbacks, you begin to understand why he got off course and the toll that mental illness can take on a whole family. All the love in the world can't save a sufferer from herself. As Smithy begins his saga after the death of his family in a weeks time, you meet the many unwitting participants in his transformation. Interesting characters all!!! Heart warming, awe inspiring, satisifying!… (more)
LibraryThing member RavenousReaders
Thumbing through his parents mail on the day of their funeral, Smithy Ide finds an unopened letter with news that his sister’s body is in the Los Angeles morgue. The tragic deaths of his entire family lead the grieving Smithy on a cross country bicycle trek that transforms his life.

reviewed by: Janet… (more)
LibraryThing member jojomac
An inspiring little story I'll read again someday, something I rarely do
LibraryThing member lowensby
Story about a family from RI. Main character's sister has bipolar and is treated at Butler. He is on a mission to find himself- travels across the states to do it. Listened to this on tape. Read Across America Book for 2007
LibraryThing member Johnny2323
Forest Gump on a bike. I just loved the idea of a guy getting on a bike fat and getting off it a few weeks later, hundreds of miles away and dozens of pounds lighter. Yes the construction flies around between the past and the present but I think it builds really nicely on all fronts. You start thinking the lead character is a clown and end thinking that his simple approach to life is the essence of "real" - a rare commodity in modern life.… (more)
LibraryThing member mhgatti
Certain books make it easy to imagine their movie pitch line, and the latest book I read is one of those books. When producers try to drum up studio interest in making the inevitable film adaptation of Ron McLarty's debut novel, The Memory of Running, it'll go something like this: "it's The Shipping News meets Forrest Gump." You take Shipping News' screwed-up simpleton Quoyle, running away from tragic events that shake him out of the rut his life has become, and you send him on a cross-country trek like that other simpleton, Gump. Now, for me this could be a problem. I was one of those party-poopers who didn't like Forrest Gump (the movie, I never read the book), but I loved The Shipping News (the book, the movie I thought suffered from a poor screenplay and even worse casting).

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.
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LibraryThing member mattp340
Quick read and just very suprising in its tone. Simple character seeing the world.
LibraryThing member Djupstrom
A fat man on a bike Forest Gumping it across the country in order to "find himself"...what is not to like. This novel is funny and touching. McLarty takes us on a literary journey along with Smithy.
LibraryThing member CatieN
Smithy Ide is 43 years old, obese, a smoker, a drunk, never been married, and has a job at a toy factory. After his parents pass away, Smithy finds his old bike in their garage, which he used to ride when he was young and skinny. On impulse, Smithy takes off across the United States, from Rhode Island to L.A., to take care of business having to do with his schizophrenic sister Bethany. The story goes back and forth between the present and the 60s and 70s. It is so beautifully written, though, that it is a pain-free experience for the reader. Smithy's bike ride across the country is sometimes beautiful, sometimes scary, and sometimes downright painful, but Smithy also begins to lose weight, quits smoking and drinking, meets quite a few very interesting people, does a lot of thinking and starts some long overdue healing from the many blows dealt to him from having a mentally ill sister to his stint in Vietnam. He also finally finds love from a most surprising source. Wonderful book from start to finish.… (more)
LibraryThing member sharlene_w
A highly enjoyable travelogue of a man's quest to find himself. The cast of characters and incidents along the road were engaging. When I finished to book, I had an overwhelming urge to grab a bag of bananas and hit the road on a bicycle--I could stand to lose a pound or two myself! I feel like I'm best friends with Smithy Ide now.… (more)
LibraryThing member Stevejm51
This is a debut novel that I enjoyed very much. It features a main character who has lost his way. He has a crazy sister and a woman in a wheelchair who loves him. When his parents die in a car accident, he rides his bike from Rhode Island to Los Angeles to claim the body of his sister, who has recently died on the street. An excellent read and a wonderful voice. I look forward to future books by this author.… (more)
LibraryThing member indygo88
I'd heard this was a good book, & after reading, I think this may be my favorite of the year thus far. It's the story of a middle-aged man's self-discovery & the quest for his sister, but it's really a lot more than that. Flashing back between past & present, it actually reminded me a lot of Forrest Gump. A great blending of seriousness & humor, I found Ron McLarty's writing style right down my alley, & I'll definitely be looking into more by this author.

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.
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LibraryThing member aimbarr
Interesting story. Wanted to keep reading.
LibraryThing member WittyreaderLI
I was never quite sure what to make of this book. And I've never wavered so much between liking a book and findin it annoying. The main character, Smithy is a fairly unlikable oath who decides to travel cross country after his entire immediate family passes away. The book flashes back and forth between present and past. And to be perfectly honest, I enjoyed the past better, where in most books, it is the total opposite. I enjoyed Smithy's sister Bethany the most. She seemed the oddest and the most interesting. I felt like a lot of the characters were strange without any kind of clear explanation as to why.
So yeah, pick this up, maybe'll like it more than I did.
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LibraryThing member kimoqt
A guy with insomnia comes across some strange scenes out in the middle of th enigh and becomes drawn into the lives of these people.
LibraryThing member hockeycrew
Smithy Ide is a fat lazy slob who has just lost his entire family. Finding his old bicycle in his father's garage, he starts a cross country bicycle ride. Along the way he will discover a lot about himself, his family and the girl he ignored and neglected for years.

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.… (more)
LibraryThing member GingerbreadMan
This is the story about the Ade family, living under the shadow of the oldest sister Bethany's mental illness. It's also the story of her younger brother Smithson's almost accidental journey of self discovery - across America on a bike. The story is told by Smithson in a hesitant, awkward and self-loathing way, which gives the book a strong personal voice.

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.
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LibraryThing member dshreve
Sedated into meaningless day to day existence partially brought on by hurtful circumstances in his life, 40 something, Vietnam vet, and single Smithson "Smithy" Ide drinks and eats himself into oblivion every night and supervises the placement of arms and legs on an action figure toy at a factory during the day.

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.
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LibraryThing member InCahoots
I favor nonfiction, particularly memoirs and biography. So this story was a bit of a challenge in the believability department. Despite this, I did develop a an abiding affection for this small band of misfits. McLarty does do a nice job of putting into words those internal doubts that we all share in our moments of honesty. If you like a story with a sweet (though predictable) ending, this one is for you.… (more)
LibraryThing member hprather
Which story do you follow? Back and forth, back in forth the book goes with no more than 4 pages at a time dedicated to the here and now or 30 years ago. I just couldn't take it.

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.
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LibraryThing member tmannix
A sympathetic tale about a lonely, passive blob of a man who sits around, drinks, has a dead-end job and answers most questions with "I don't know." Smithy is haunted by memories of his schizophrenic sister who disappeared long ago and for a long-time he has just been biding time. With the death of both parents in a single car crash, Smithy is jolted into action. He takes off on his childhood Raleigh with just the clothes on his back on what turns out to be a cross-country journey. He encounters some wonderful characters along the way and slowly, subtly Smithy emerges as a guy who takes action, makes a plan, has opinions and realizes he cares deeply for the girl-next-door. She, a parapalegic, quietly encourages Smithy on his quest with her periodic phone calls. This is a sweet book, quickly read.… (more)
LibraryThing member TheBoltChick
I listened to this as an audio book, and at the beginning wasn't at all sure I was going to like it. After the first 45 minutes or so, I really started to get into it.
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!!!
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LibraryThing member BookConcierge
Recorded book, read by the author

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.
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LibraryThing member kcallen6
Great book a bit slow, but interesting


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