So, this book got a lot of hype when it came out, thanks to Stephen King recommending it as a fantastic book, and then berating the publishing industry for not publishing it when they first saw it. As such, McLarty became a first-time author at the age of 56 – not something that happens very often in book land. But, is the book any good?
The Memory of Running is a good, old-fashioned road book – much like the road movie, but in book form. Our protagonist takes the massive shape of Smithson Ide, who weighs in at a whopping 279 pounds (127k for those of us using real measuring systems.) After the unfortunate death of his parents in a car accident, he discovers a letter in his parents’ house that tells him of where his long-lost mentally disturbed sister is. She is also dead. Smithy gets on his childhood bike, and starts cycling to the other side to see his dead sister’s body, to pay his respects. On the way, he meets many exciting people blah blah blah. You’ve all heard it before.
As road novels go, this is, perhaps, not the greatest one you’re ever going to read. There are many better. Jack Kerouac, for example. It is pretty formulaic, with Smithy meeting people that are outside his comfort zone, who teach him lessons about life and all that kind of good stuff. To be fair, some of the characters he meets are quite interesting, including the man dying of AIDS, and the three young girls he meets on an accidental bike ride, but the vast majority are not. The love interest is also not particularly interesting, either. And, after he gets shot for the third time over a simple misunderstanding, you also want to knock some sense into him. Quickly.
However, the road book part of the novel is not the only part. Every alternate chapter is a flashback to his childhood. Well, his sister’s childhood, really. This is actually done quite well. His sister, Bethany, is an excellent creation, and watching her try to live a normal life, despite the problems she clearly has (at home, as well as in her head) is actually quite enthralling. This doesn’t, unfortunately, take all that much of the book, and I found myself wanting to get back to Bethany’s life, and skip Smithy’s journey, which becomes painfully repetitive at times.
Look, this is not the most terrible book I have ever read. It certainly isn’t the best, though. The repetition of the same thing over and over again really grates after a while (much like this review) , and the redeeming features are not enough to overcome the few parts that are quite interesting. If you want a road novel that actually looks at America properly, as McLarty tries to do, read Kerouac.