The Memory of Running - Ron McLarty Stephen King personally insisted that I read this book (okay, he recommended it to me AND thousands of others in an Entertainment Weekly column) so here I am. His write up was so enthusiastic that I couldn’t resist. And I’m glad I didn’t.

The Memory of Running is the story of Smithson Ide, your every day boy next door growing up in New England during the 60’s. The story is told in a series of flashbacks and narrated by 40-something Smithy.

Smithy’s sister Bethany constantly told him to keep running or he’d turn into a fat ass and she wasn’t kidding. Smithy has grown from a slender boy who loved to run into an overweight, junk eating, chain-smoking laze-about with little ambition and a great fondness for the television set. He lives a monotonous, shut-in sort of life but has managed to maintain an aura of sweetness and innocence when, as we learn more of his past, he could have easily become jaded and bitter. When his parents tragically die he revisits his past, rekindles a friendship with a long neglected friend and hops on a bicycle in his funeral suit to work through his grief. During his trip from Rhode Island to California he meets all sorts of fascinating people with stories to tell and recounts his very interesting and often heartbreaking past.

The story starts a bit slowly but quickly picks up pace. As it went on I found myself making excuses to stay in the car or take a longer route home so I hear just a few more words. Smithy grew up with an older sister, Bethany, who he, his mom and his pop loved very much. Bethany was beautiful and smart but began to hear “voices” as a young teen. The “voice” makes Bethany do bizarre, out of character, shameful things like strip off her clothes in public, tear at her pretty face, stand in odd poses for hours on end and disappear. Smithy spends much of his childhood biking around looking for Bethany and hates Bethany’s “voice” though he always continues to love his sister even when she’s cruel.

The story flips between Smithy’s current day wanderings where he meets all sorts of folks and has some downright odd encounters and flashes back to his past where he goes into detail about important points in his young life; from dating foibles, to the fateful day when a childhood friend’s vibrant personality was forever changed and he details many of Bethany’s “episodes” which had a huge impact on his young life. You really get to know these folks in the span of this book and I was sorry to let them go when I finished.

The story isn’t always perfect (some of the dialogue feels unreal and the story shifts are sometimes too abrupt for my liking) but despite the minor quibbles it is one of the most involving things I've read in quite a while and author McLarty’s narration is seamlessly performed.

Filled with unexpected twists, beautifully detailed settings and a gut wrenching sense of emotional intensity The Memory of Running is a book I’ll be revisiting many times.