The Memory of Running by Ron McLarty. A mid-life chance for a good-hearted loser to make good on life.

The Memory of RunningSmithson “Smithy” Ide is a runner, a cyclist, a reader, and one skinny kid. At least he used to be. As a boy, he ran to go fishing. He often had to run as part of his family’s efforts to find his sister, Bethany, afflicted with a voice that insists on violence and leaves her in a catatonic pose. Smithy’s searches were accelerated when his pop bought him a new maroon three-speed Raleigh bicycle, the kind we all wanted at his age. He would ride every day after school. Can you remember that feeling?

Years later, Smithy is fourty-seven; now he is running away from life. He is numb from the escalating violence of Bethany who finally disappeared and cannot be found. He is indifferent about his old neighbour girl, Norma, who used to be like one of the family, but became house-bound and was forgotten because of Bethany’s affliction. Smithy smokes and drinks; he is a 270 pound fat-ass. When Smithy is called upon to arrange the funeral of his parents, he finds a letter confirming that Bethany is dead, identified by her dental records after being found in the streets.

Smithy finds his old Raleigh in the garage. “All of a sudden I gave the Raleigh a few steps, sat ridiculously on the seat, and began to coast on the flat tire rims of my bike, down our little hill.” Thus begins a crazy journey from East Providence, Rhode Island to Venice, Los Angles where his dead sister is being kept in a funeral home. Sleeping in corn fields and later in a tent, Smithy is aided by Benny, a wayward priest trying to make amends; hit by Carl, whose illness leaves Smithy rushing him to the hospital; and disappointed by an old war-buddy who once saved Smithy’s life. As the pounds melt off, Smithy forgets his addictions. I ached in pleasure at times sharing Smithy’s rediscovery of cycling, his joy in sweet but wholesome bananas, and the company of a good book. I cheered when Smithy learned that his absence had cost him his dismal job. Visions of Bethany guide him on his trip, and phone calls from Norma promise love at the end of it all. It is a journey of remembering and redemption, a mid-life chance for a good-hearted loser to make good on life.