three-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
16-May-June-2005
By: 
Ron McLarty
user_rating: 
0

A-MemoryRunningSmithson "Smithy" Ide is a 43-year-old obese, alcoholic Vietnam vet with a mindless job, no friends or romantic prospects, and a fondness for pickled eggs. In the span of one tragic day, his parents die in a car accident and his long-missing schizophrenic sister’s body turns up in a California morgue. With no forethought, Smithy hops on his childhood bicycle and starts riding from his Rhode Island hometown, eventually deciding to cross the country and claim his sister’s body. Along the way, he meets marginal characters from all walks of life, has a few run-ins with the law, comes to terms with his past—and even falls in love, via telephone, with his wheelchair-bound neighbor back home.
Viking. 358 pages. $24.95. ISBN: 0670033634

Entertainment Weekly 4 of 5 Stars
"McLarty unspools passage after passage of devastating grace and melancholy, and his taciturn hero hooks himself to your heart." Adam B. Vary

Providence Journal 4 of 5 Stars
"Wonderfully full-bodied, deep-souled first novel that is both melancholy and masterly. … [Smithy is] neither sentimental nor overwrought but speaks as clearly as he can, bringing into focus a marginalized America and the wounded souls that inhabit it." Sam Coale

San Francisco Chronicle 4 of 5 Stars
"… McLarty has invented a character so fully and elegantly defined that the book soars with originality and life. … The Memory of Running is a dense book, full of humanity and humor and honesty." Amy Senk

NY Times Book Review 2.5 of 5 Stars
"Pleasant enough—McLarty comes across as big-hearted and in love with storytelling—but the cycle of rash misunderstandings and last minute rescues begins to feel repetitive. As a result, the narrative loses momentum." Mark Kamine

Plain Dealer 1 of 5 Stars
"[Smithy’s] encounters are predictable in the way of television shows. …The characters’ personalities seem fabricated from a kit rather than organically intermingled with the progress of the plot." Nancy Connors

Seattle Post-Intelligencer 1 of 5 Stars
"Melodramatic, far-fetched and forced, a novel that tries way too hard to be as likable as a new puppy. … A dispiriting experience, dispiriting in its far-fetched premise and flawed execution, dispiriting too in what it says about commercial publishing these days." John Marshall

Critical Summary

McLarty, a veteran Hollywood actor, first published Memory as an audiobook. After Stephen King sang its praises in Entertainment Weekly as "The Best Book You Can’t Read," Viking purchased it for $2 million. Critics disagree about whether it was worth the price. While some found the larger-than-life situations to be refreshingly original and an insightful comment on modern society’s shortcomings, others saw them as contrived or just plain unbelievable. Several also cited the novel’s structure and pacing (alternating chapters on Smithy’s journey with those on his family’s troubled past) as distracting and unnecessarily complex. Smithy, too, was at turns engaging and irritating, though he’ll definitely make you forget your own problems for a while.