By all accounts, especially his own, Smithson "Smithy" Ide is a loser. An overweight, friendless, chain-smoking, forty-three-year-old drunk, Smithy's life becomes completely unhinged when he loses his parents and long-lost sister within the span of one week. Rolling down the driveway of his parents' house in Rhode Island on his old Raleigh bicycle to escape his grief, the emotionally bereft Smithy embarks on an epic, hilarious, luminous, and extraordinary journey of discovery and redemption.
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.
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.
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!!!
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.
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.
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.