The Memory of Running

Memory of Running, by Ron McLartyThe Memory of Running
by Ron McLarty

…is decent, and readable, but too calculating for my tastes.

(Put another way, the film rights to the book were optioned to Warner Bros. for 7 figures, and it shows.)

This is a book you’re supposed to like. The plot is strange, but not too strange. Some characters are likeable, but of course they have their human flaws. And then there are the undesirables, cropping up from time to time. Bad stuff happens. If it happens to other people, too bad. If it happens to the Narrator (Smithy Ide), it’s overcome with help from Good People.

Aw, shucks.

I don’t mean to disparage this book because, as I said, it’s not wholly incompetent.

Notice I said “not wholly”.

Here are the qualms I have:

Characterization is very stop-and-go — some characters central to the plot are poorly conceived caricatures, while others who make incidental appearances are brilliantly portrayed. It’s nonsensical. For some people, the good spots might overcome the bad. Not for me.

The narrator’s a simple man. This in itself is not a problem. That he’s simple is a fact he tells you time and again, and you can tell—from his diction, from his mannerisms, from his reactions to uncomfortable situations — that he’s telling the truth. So far, so good. My problem with this is that it’s too calculating, or feels too calculating, at any rate. This isn’t the good-natured homey (yet strangely complex) simplicity of a Wendell Berry character, but the cold, carefully weighed simplicity of a door-to-door salesman. It feels fake, and the book suffers as a result.

(I doubt this is a result of author Ron McLarty being sinister or anything like that; it’s likely a result of him not knowing any other way to create a simple character. It’s not the best way to get the job done.)

The dialogue is atrocious. It’s ridiculously, absurdly simplistic at times, while other times the conversation participants delve into lengthy, hearty exposition that you could excuse if not for the fact that it does little to make any kind of valid, meaningful point (aside from the basic triad of [1] there’s suffering in the world, [2] some people are bad, and [3] some people are good — and, let’s face it, nobody needs to be told this). Or maybe it does, and there’s something I’m missing.

All told, The Memory of Running is a book to avoid. Not “avoid like the plague” avoid, mind you. But stay alert.

Upcoming Book Reviews:

  • The Family Tree by Carole Cadwalladr
  • Home Land by Sam Lipsyte
  • The Power Game by Joesph Nye, Jr.
  • Walking the Big Wild by Karsten Heuer
  • Ballad of the Whiskey Robber by Julian Rubinstein
  • Il Dottore by Ron Felber