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The Memory of Running: A Novel Hardcover – December 29, 2004

4.2 out of 5 stars 265 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Ron McLarty has joined the ranks of writers of the quirky hero with The Memory of Running. His hero, Smithy Ide, is in the grand tradition of Ignatius J. Reilly of A Confederacy of Dunces and Quoyle of The Shipping News. What these gentlemen have in common is their lumpen-loser looks, their outsider status and their general befuddlement about the way the world works and their place in it. Smithy rises above them because of his self-effacing nature, his great capacity for love, his inability to show it and his endless willingness to forgive.

Smithy is a 279-pound, hard-drinking, chain-smoking, 43-year-old misfit who works in a G.I. Joe factory putting arms and legs on the action heroes. (How did McLarty come up with that?) He is also the most beguiling anti-hero to come into view in a long, long time. McLarty, an award-winning actor and playwright best known for his many appearances on TV in Law & Order, Sex and the City, The Practice, and Judging Amy, has added another star to his creative crown with this novel.

The first sentence of the book is: "My parents' Ford station wagon hit a concrete divider on U.S. 95 outside Biddeford, Maine, in August 1990." This tragic accident eventually claims both their lives. It is on the day of their funeral that Smithy finds a letter to his father about Bethany, his beloved and deeply troubled sister, stating that, "Bethany Ide, 51, died from complications of exposure... and she has since that time been in the Los Angeles Morgue West." Beautiful Bethany, given to taking off her clothes in public places, holding impossible poses for long periods of time, responding to voices that only she can hear, and disappearing for no known reason. This time, she has been gone for many years and now Smithy knows that she died destitute and alone. When he reads the letter, he is drunk, grief-stricken and, despite a house full of people, he is alone. He goes out to the garage to smoke and have another drink and spies his old Raleigh bicycle. He sits on it, flat tires and all, wheels it to the end of the driveway--and--Smithy doesn’t know it yet, but he is going to ride a bicycle from Maine to Los Angeles to claim his sister's remains.

On the road he meets the good, the bad, and the really bad. He frequently calls Norma, the Ides' across-the-street neighbor, confined to a wheelchair for years, and always in love with him. He has never acknowledged nor returned her ardor, but he starts to count on her friendship during his travels. Their conversations are sweet and revelatory. McLarty has done a superb job of showing us who Smithy is and who he is becoming. It's a wonderful story told with great poignancy and humor. --Valerie Ryan

From Publishers Weekly

Smithy Ide is a really nice guy. But he's also an overweight, friendless, womanless, hard-drinking, 43-year-old self-professed loser with a breast fetish and a dead-end job, given to stammering "I just don't know" in life's confusing moments. When Smithy's entire family dies, he embarks on a transcontinental bicycle trip to recover his sister's body and rediscover what it means to live. Along the way, he flashes back to his past and the hardships of his beloved sister's schizophrenia, while his dejection encourages strangers to share their life stories. The road redeems the innocent Smithy: he loses weight; rescues a child from a blizzard; rebuffs the advances of a nubile, "apple-breasted" co-cyclist after seeing a vision of his dead sister; and nurtures a telephone romance with a paraplegic family friend as he processes his rocky past. McLarty, a playwright and television actor, propels the plot with glib mayhem—including three tragic car accidents in 31 pages and a death by lightning bolt—and a lot of bighearted and warm but faintly mournful humor. It's a funny, poignant, slightly gawky debut that aims, like its protagonist, to please—and usually does.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Viking Adult (December 29, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0670033634
  • ISBN-13: 978-0670033638
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.3 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (265 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,154,975 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Barks Book Nonsense TOP 1000 REVIEWER on June 11, 2004
Format: Audio Cassette
Stephen King personally insisted that I read this book (okay, he recommended it to me AND thousands of others in an Entertainment Weekly column) so here I am. His write up was so enthusiastic that I couldn't resist. And I'm glad I didn't.
The Memory of Running is the story of Smithson Ide, your everyday boy next door growing up in New England during the 60's. The story is told in a series of flashbacks and narrated by 40something Smithy.
Smithy's sister Bethany constantly told him to keep running or he'd turn into a fat ass and she wasn't kidding. Smithy has grown from a slender boy who loved to run into an overweight, junk eating, chain-smoking laze-about with little ambition and a great fondness for the television set. He lives a monotonous, shut-in sort of life but has managed to maintain an aura of sweetness and innocence when, as we learn more of his past, he could've easily become jaded and bitter. When his parents tragically die he revisits his past, rekindles a friendship with a long neglected friend and hops on a bicycle in his funeral suit (!) to work through his grief. During his trip from Rhode Island to California he meets all sorts of fascinating people with stories to tell and recounts his very interesting and often heartbreaking past.
The story starts a bit slowly but quickly picks up pace. As it went on I found myself making excuses to stay in the car or take a longer route home so I hear just a few more words. Smithy grew up with an older sister, Bethany, who he, his mom and his pop loved very much. Bethany was beautiful and smart but began to hear "voices" as a young teen. The "voice" makes Bethany do bizarre; out of character, shameful things like strip her clothes in public, tear at her pretty face, stand in odd poses for hours on end and disappear.
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Format: Audio Cassette
This is an abridged version of the Stephen King review of this audio cassette (September 19, 2003, publication of this article in ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY):
"My gig at EW isn't writing book reviews, but I can still state with a fair degree of certainty that Ron McLarty's THE MEMORY OF RUNNING is the best novel you won't read this year. but you can experience it, and I'm all but positive that you'll thank me for the tip if you do.
"MEMORY is the story of 279-pound Smithson Ide, a smokes-too-much, drinks-too-much, eats-too-much haert attack waiting to happen. I mean, this gy is a mess -- a lovely, addled, mess. And then one day, Smithy finds himself riding across American with his 'fat ass' handing over the seat of his boyhood bycycle. He's on his way from Rhode Island [Ron graduated from Rhode Island College's theatre department!] to LA -- where he aims to retrieve his sister's body from the couty morgue -- and along hte road he meets a parade of colorful characters. Unlike Huck Finn's adventures, Smithy's don't amount to literature, but they are always entertaining and sometimes wildly funny. . . .
[Ron McLarty, "an actor, playwright, and chronic insomniac who scribbled the tale of Smithy Ide in the wee hours of the morning, on a succession of yellow legal pads," could not get his novel published, but, because he worked as a narrator at Recorded Books, he was able to make an audio cassette of his novel, which King read during his long convalescence after he was hit by a car. He is so impressed with this novel that he wrote this essay. He admits, the first couple of chapters drag, but -- with wise editing -- it will definitely improve. To continue King's essay:]
"That THE MEMORY OF RUNNING has found its own little performance stage is a miracle.
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Format: Hardcover
I've never heard of Ron McLarty before I read this book, unlike others. Sorry I missed him even though I probably saw him on t.v. more than once.

At any rate, THE MEMORY OF RUNNING is a book I'm glad I didn't miss. I got it because it has a great cover and, yes, sometimes I do pick a book by its cover. Admit it - you do too. And the title was great as well. A slow start, but once I got into it, I didn't want to put it down. I would wake up at 3 a.m. and decide to read for a few minutes and this is something I rarely do with a book. But I did. More than once.

Ron McLarty has put together a great story. Compare it to whatever you want, it's not like other things I've read recently. Maybe because I read mostly female authors and literary fiction, it was different, but maybe because it's far from a formula novel and right up there with one that will stay with you for a long time.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This novel is an elegant, unpretentious, but disarming story about Smithy Ide's redemption. When the story begins he is a person who has for the most part stopped participating in life - fat, alcoholic, heavy smoker, and no self-esteem (but oddly not at all bitter). After both of his parents die on a motor vehicle accident he is trying to settle their affairs. One night, while tremendously drunk, he finds his old Raleigh bicycle in his parent's garage and by accident he rolls of on a journey that will take him across the entire United States.

Every other chapter is a flashback where we learn about Smithy's difficult past, including caring for his nearly always heart-breaking schizophrenic sister (who had a habit of running off and getting in trouble) and his being severely wounded in the Viet Nam War. During the present tense chapters we follow Smithy as he pedals cross country, eats fruit, drops his bad habits, his job, and ultimately his alienation. His redemption comes to fruition in a number of ways: his examination of why he went from being a thin "runner" (as a child he ran, never walked, everywhere he went) who was an active participant in life to an obese, unhealthy, self-loathing drunk; his cross country healing journey; his reading of a couple of cheesy but inspiring paperbacks; his encounters with various characters along the way - all of whom Smithy helps (and in turn they help Smithy); his "closure" regarding his sister; and his ultimately finding love that was there all along. Sound corny? Well, in a sense it is - but this is an affecting and fortifying story.

Smithy is a simple person who seems to be nearly empty. He reminds me a bit of "Chance" from Jerzy Kosinski's Being There - although Smithy is a more intelligent than Chance.
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