The Memory Of Running by Ron McLarty | Book Review

Sunday 3 November 2019

I received The Memory of Running by Ron McLarty as a gift back in 2004, the year of its release. Since then it had been on my TBR list but was constantly pushed back and eventually forgotten. Jan, the guy who ran my local book store, gave it to me because he liked it a lot and thought I would too. But the problem back then was that 21 year old me was only into sci-fi and fantasy so I didn’t have much interest in it, until now. As some of you may already know, as I bring this up a lot in my reviews, I have branched out in my reading and it’s all thanks to my wife. So I decided that now was the time to read this now 15 year old book. So what were my thoughts? Well, I’m glad I wanted so long to read it. Here’s my review of The Memory of Running:

It ended up being a good thing that I wanted so long because I’m more patient now for books that don’t capture my attention right away. Was it worth the wait? No.
How about we get the premise done with? Smithson Ide is an overweight alcoholic loser. He has a dead end job and nothing in his life is changing. That is until his parents die in a tragic car crash and he finds out his long missing sister has been found and she too, is dead. Smithy does what any logical person would do and ride his bike from Rhode Island to California to pick up his sisters remains because, you know, you can do that on a bike. Along the way he meets the best and worst America has to offer.
I’ve made it no secret that I hate Catcher in the Rye by JD Salinger. Holden Caufield is a bratty little piece of crap who makes me rethink my stance on hitting children. Smithson Ide is worse. He’s an uninteresting, unrelateable, unlikable and irredeemable mess of a human being. Each and every character in this book is a waste of ink and paper but he’s the worst. Everyone is garbage and the only people who at least have reasons for being crap are Smithon’s sister (we know through flashbacks) who is mentally ill, and his neighbor who was basically abandoned and ignored by Smithy’s family after becoming crippled in an accident. Smithy was wounded in Vietnam but that rarely comes up and is so poorly used as an excuse for his alcoholism and being overweight that it feels like they’re unrelated issues.

Smithson himself is as boring a monochrome rainbow. He has no personality and none of the usual reasons for not having one. Smithson is just a nobody who lets life happen to him and then seems confused when bad things happen. Quite a few of the problems he experience in the book would have been fixed right away if he had just said something instead of just clamming up or saying “I don’t know.” This is something that never really changes throughout the book. Smithy does change, but very little and not in any meaningful way. He’s the same meek and boring moron the whole time. There were times I was so angry at him for being so weird and weak that I wanted to throw the book across the room.
There’s a part in the book when he’s getting mistreated and harassed because of a stupidly simple misunderstanding and not once does he open his useless mouth to defend himself. I would have understood this a lot more of Smithy had some sort of mental problem too, like his sister, but that’s never even hinted at. Instead he gets yelled at and abused instead of just saying “Hey guys, this is a misunderstanding.” If he at least tried a little I would have liked him more.
The other issue with the book was the fat shaming. It mostly came from the narrator (Smithy) who always talk about what a fat slob he was. And while I get it, I’m a fat guy and am hard on myself too, but the disparaging comments didn’t come across that way. It felt more like the author didn’t want us to forget that his character was fat. It’s like when an author has a character that’s a minority and doesn’t want you to forget it so they bring it up every chance they get. The Memory of Running was supposed to be a journey through America as told through the eyes of a character who has basically lost everything and is searching for himself. What it ended up being was a snore fest with an occasional glimmer of hope, a chapter here or there that I didn’t hate. The only reason I finished the book was because it was a gift and I had to know how it ended.
I wish I had DNF’d this. I want the hours of my life back that this book stole from me. The ending was as much garbage as Smithson Ide’s whole life. Rom McLarty had a good idea on his hands but fumbled it worse than a wide receiver having a seizure. Stephen King is one of my all time favorite authors and he loves this book. I want to know what he saw. I want to know what book he read because it couldn’t have been the book I read. If you want to read an additional rant of mine that comes chock full with spoilers, continue reading after the picture below. But for now, let me wrap this up and say:
The Memory Of Running by Ron McLarty gets a 2 out of 11

One of these things can be used to wipe your butt. The other is toilet paper.
Additional Rant (WITH SPOILERS): The book jumps between Smithy as a kid and him as an adult. When he’s a kid it’s all leading up to him going to Vietnam and his sister’s final mental break which caused her to run away. Both as a kid Smithy is someone who never stands up for himself in any way and just lets stuff happen. He asks a girl to prom moments after her boyfriend dumps her. She says yes. Then at the prom she runs crying to her ex saying that Smithy was being mean and trying to force himself on her. When he’s confronted about this he doesn’t say anything to defend himself. He just leaves. At one point adult Smithy is hit by a car and the guy who hits him was on his way to the hospital anyway. When they get to the hospital the staff rushes up and takes the guy away who tries to tell them Smithy needs help but they don’t understand. Instead of speaking up, Smithy just sits in the waiting room after going to clean himself up in the bathroom… after getting HIT BY A CAR! He was hit by a car and couldn’t even be bothered to speak up to say that he needed help. When the guys comes back out Smithy drives him home, still not saying a thing to anyone, and takes the guy home. When he’s at the guys house we find out the guy is dying of AIDS and Smithy helps him that night. The next day a doctor and cop show up to yell at him for trying to take advantage of a dying man and the cop roughs Smithy up who still not once says anything to defend himself. The guy dying of AIDS is the one who says something to the doctor and it’s all worked out.
Can you see why this character bothered me so much? Can you see why he was such a frustrating character and why the book aggravated me so much? If there was some reason Smithy was like that, if there was some acknowledgement that he had a mental problem it would have been a little easier to swallow because we’d then know. But now. Smithy is just a loser. A true, honest to God, loser that never should have been the main character of a book.

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