26—The Memory of Running by Ron McLarty

Smithy Ide is a loner. He's a 43 year old alcoholic who weighs 297 lbs. As a boy he was very thin and would run everywhere. He lived with his parents and older sister Bethany. Bethany heard voices and from an early age would run away, strip naked and pose. She would stay in the same position for hours until her father or brother would find her and either bring her home or commit her to the local mental hospital. At first Smithy would run while looking for her but then his father bought him a 3 speed, maroon Raleigh bicycle which he would ride to find her.

After Smithy returned home to New Providence, RI from the vietnam war (he had survived 21 gunshot wounds), he began to drink and smoke and gain weight and Bethany's condition got worse and eventually she disappeared and could not be found.

When the story opens Smithy's parents have been killed in an auto accident. While going through their papers he finds a letter from the Los Angeles County coroner saying he had identified Bethany's body (she had been missing for 20 years). One night Smithy finds his old Raleigh hanging in the garage and pulls it down and starts riding, not really caring where he goes.

Through a series of events he decides to ride to California to claim his sister's body. Over the course of 10 weeks he meets many people who befriend him and help him on his journey. He eats healthy and loses over 50 lbs. Through a series of flashbacks we learn about Bethany and Norma, a paraplegic who lives next door to Smithy's family and who loves Smithy. At the point the story begins Smithy is incapable of forming relationships outside his family. He ignores Norma until, during the course of his journey he calls on her for help.

When he reaches California and the funeral home that has Bethany's body, Norma is there.

Throughout the book I had the feeling I was reading Catcher in the Rye and that the end would find Smithy, like Holden Caufield before him, in a mental hospital recounting his journey. It was not to be, but nonetheless, Smithy, like Holden lives inside his head but, unlike Holden, somehow manages to navigate the real world and love himself and Norma, too.

© Surveyor of the Passing Scene