Ron McLarty

"The Memory of Running"

(Reviewed by Pat Neumann SEP 30, 2006)

“I just love you, Hook.  I love you more than anything in the world.  Even when I’m crazy, I think good things about you and hope that good things happen to you.  Remember how you’d look for me?  Remember how you found me once under the water tower and you let me ride the bike back and you ran beside me?  That’s why I’m afraid.  I’m afraid you’ve stopped running, and I don’t want you to.  I want you to stay a runner.  I want you to remember running.”

The Memory of Running

Wow!  What a story!  How can you not fall in love with a story like this?

A fairly well-known actor pours his heart into a book and unsuccessfully tries for years to get it published. Finally, in desperation he gets a small company on the internet to release a taped version of his book, which he reads himself.  A librarian who bought a copy got the author to come and talk to her book group, and eventually brought it to the attention of an agent.  Later, Stephen King ran into the author who sent him a copy and then King issued a glowing review in an Entertainment Weekly column which triggered a bidding war and FINALLY got it published with a two million dollar advance!

But that isn’t the story of the book I’m here to review, it is the story of how it came to be published.

Here’s the book:

Smithson (Smithy) Ide is a 279 pound, 43 year old friendless nobody who works in a factory as an inspector of GI Joe dolls, has become grossly overweight and is drinking and smoking himself to death when both of his parents die after a car accident.  Through a series of flashbacks told in the first person, we learn about the deep, quiet pools of love this man carried for his family, charming reminiscences of his childhood and his getting wounded while serving in Viet Nam.

Smithy’s beautiful older sister, Bethany, heard voices that instructed her to do strange things.  His family’s way of coping with her bizarre behavior and frequent disappearances came to seem normal to them and their immediate neighbor, Norma, who loved and understood Bethany, but idolized Smithy. She was like a part of the family until she was paralyzed after being struck by a car, and then (unintentionally), Norma’s inclusion dissolved.

After his parent’s funeral, Norma wheels herself over for the first time in years and catches Smithy up on her life, her job and financial independence and somehow hints that she loves him.  When she leaves, Smithy starts going through his parent’s mail and finds a letter from the Coroner’s Office for the County of Los Angeles, stating that Bethany has been positively identified from dental records evidently sent my Mr. Ide.  Thoroughly disheartened and now drunk, Smith wanders out to the garage and discovers his old bicycle.  Impulsively he decides to take it for a ride and comes-to the next morning, hung-over, stiff, sore, banged up and broke.  He could go home but he impulsively starts riding and decides to just keep riding in spite of having nothing with him.  No money.  No identification, no clothing.  Nothing. He’ll just keep going until he can’t go any more – maybe all the way out to Los Angeles. 

The stories of the characters and kindnesses he encounters on his travels are often funny, touching and over-all uplifting.  As he goes, he catches glimpses of Bethany which peel back layers of memories.  He starts reading books that people give to him and starts eating a healthy diet which (combined with the bike ride) cause him to also drop a lot of weight.  He builds up his strength and endurance – both physically and emotionally and starts (perhaps for the first time) to connect to the world.  He begins and then continues calling to check in with Norma, telling her about his experiences.  She does what she can to help him and eventually starts telling him that she loves him.  Surprising himself, Smithy now realizes that he loves her too.

All of these stories are woven together in a straightforward and increasingly relevant way until a poignant and very satisfying conclusion.  This is an irresistible book, both funny and sad, filled with insightful portraits, tender humor and genuine feelings that will linger in your mind. It is also a great book for discussion in book clubs.

Hey!  If its good enough for Stephen King and Wally Lamb (who is quoted on the front cover), that’s good enough for me.

  • Amazon readers rating: from 118 reviews

Read a chapter excerpt from Memory of Running at Penguin Group



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About the Author:

Ron McLartyRon McLarty was born in in Providence, Rhode Island in 1947. He is an award-winning actor and playwright. He came to New York thirty years ago to become a writer. And while pursuing this goal, he became one of television's and film's most recognized faces, his most recent role was as Judge Joseph Malloy on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. He has also been on The Practice, Sex and the City, and was a regular on Spenser For Hire. He has appeared in films and on the stage, where he has directed many of his own plays.

McLarty has written about 44 plays, of which 10 have been expanded to novels. The Memory of Running was his third novel.

In 2002, he lost Diane, his wife of 32 years, to lung cancer; McLarty and his three grown sons spread her ashes in a Colorado stream. On New Year's Day 2004, he married fellow New York stage actor Kate Skinner, sold his Montclair home and moved into her Manhattan apartment.

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