Ron McLarty breathes life and vibrancy into the truly unique character of Smithy Ide. Smithy spends his adult life going through the motions of a mundane job, stuffing his body with booze, nicotine and bad food while being a caring son to his mom and pop. His parents grieve for their daughter and Smithy’s older sister, Bethany, who is afflicted with the confusing, unpredictable and relentless voice of mental illness. Both Bethany’s condition and a pesky younger next door neighbor, Norma, repeatedly interrupt Smithy’s childhood before Norma becomes only a shadow behind a drawn blind after a horrific accident leaves her crippled, and Bethany’s voice takes her away from the family forever.
It is not until Smithy’s parents die within hours of each other following a tragic automobile accident that Smithy has an epiphany when he returns to his childhood home to face the ghosts of a past life unwittingly controlled by Bethany’s manipulative voice and the shadow behind the drawn blind. Norma has grown into an independent caring woman but still carries physical and emotional scars from both the accident and by those she loved who seemed to stop loving her after she was deemed a cripple. He finds a well-timed letter addressed to his father that tells of matching dental records and of Bethany’s body housed in a cold morgue on the West Coast.
Haunted by Bethany’s words - “don’t ever stop running Hook or you’ll become a fat-ass” - that came true once he gave up running, Smithy, as if guided by a higher purpose, hikes his fat ass on his bike from childhood and sets off on a cross-country ride to recover his sister’s body that will change his life.
McLarty makes a solid novel debut with The Memory of Running, using no canned formula for success. His distinctive voice and captivating plot combine flawlessly to guide Smithy’s metamorphosis from an overweight alcoholic who chain smokes to a sleek vegetarian with a love of the open road. Colorful characters and breathtaking descriptions compliment the work without overshadowing Smithy’s big heart and forgiving disposition.
McClarty’s first person narrative takes us inside Smithy’s head where we’ll laugh with him, cry with him and feel his pain as his sister succumbs to the evil voice inside her head. The story switches abruptly from current to the past, but McLarty manages to bring the reader along with him without too much confusion. The dialogue between Smithy and Norma, which seemed initially burdensome and clumsy at times, fits with the clumsy and verbally challenged Smithy, and his journey will linger in your head and your heart long after you close the book.