The Memory of Running

The Memory of Running

by Ron McLarty


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Every decade seems to produce a novel that captures the public’s imagination with a story that sweeps readers up and takes them on a thrilling, unforgettable ride. Ron McLarty’s The Memory of Running is this decade’s novel. By all accounts, especially his own, Smithson "Smithy" Ide is a loser. An overweight, friendless, chain-smoking, forty-three-year-old drunk, Smithy’s life becomes completely unhinged when he loses his parents and long-lost sister within the span of one week. Rolling down the driveway of his parents’ house in Rhode Island on his old Raleigh bicycle to escape his grief, the emotionally bereft Smithy embarks on an epic, hilarious, luminous, and extraordinary journey of discovery and redemption.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780143036685
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 12/27/2005
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 384
Sales rank: 223,662
Product dimensions: 5.09(w) x 8.20(h) x 0.75(d)
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

Ron McLarty is an award-winning actor and playwright best known for his appearances on television series, including Law & Order, Sex and the City, The Practice, and Judging Amy. He has appeared in films and on the stage, where he has directed many of his own plays.

Read an Excerpt

My parents’ Ford wagon hit a concrete divider on U.S. 95 outside Biddeford, Maine, in August 1990. They’d driven that stretch of highway for maybe thirty years, on the way to Long Lake. Some guy who used to play baseball with Pop had these cabins by the lake and had named them for his children. Jenny. Al. Tyler. Craig. Bugs. Alice and Sam. We always got Alice for two weeks in August, because it had the best waterfront, with a shallow, sandy beach, and Mom and Pop could watch us while they sat in the green Adirondack chairs.

Excerpted from "The Memory of Running"
by .
Copyright © 2005 Ron McLarty.
Excerpted by permission of Penguin Publishing Group.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

"Smithy is an American original, worthy of a place on the shelf just below your Hucks, your Holdens, your Yossarians." —Stephen King

"Endearing . . . it’s a ride worth taking." —USA Today

"In The Memory of Running, professional actor and long aspiring novelist Ron McLarty has invented a character so fully and elegantly defined that the book soars with originality and life." —San Francisco Chronicle

"Captivating . . . McLarty unspools passage after passage of devastating grace and melancholy, and his taciturn hero hooks himself to your heart." —Entertainment Weekly

"Riders who hop onto the back of Smithy Ide's bike and ride America with him will cherish the journey. I loved this sad, funny, life-affirming novel." —Wally Lamb

Reading Group Guide


"Sometimes there are moments when a person has to make a decision, as opposed to just letting things just happen. A person then has to happen himself. I have never done this. Life bounced off me, and bounced me, and now it was going to bounce me to death." —from The Memory of Running (p. 77)

The Memory of Running is a road novel, the story of one man's journey across America toward personal redemption. It's also a story of families and friendships, a story of mental illness and addiction, a story of Vietnam and AIDS, a story of growing up and growing older, a story of first loves and second chances—in short, a novel that traverses a whole landscape of American themes and preoccupations.

Smithson "Smithy" Ide, the protagonist, has all the makings of a classic American antihero. He's a fat slob in a dead-end factory job who drinks too much, a chain-smoking forty-three-year-old loser lumbering toward an early death. He has no friends, no spouse, no lover—just his elderly parents and a head full of painful memories. When unexpected tragedy strikes, these memories (and a few drinks too many) launch Smithy on an improbable cross-country bicycle odyssey.

The novel interweaves the story of this epic cross-country ride with flashbacks to Smithy's youth and young adulthood. As he pedals toward California, shedding pounds, sidestepping catastrophes, and reconnecting with humanity, we come to see the people and events that pushed Smithy from a happy youth to a middle-aged wreck: his beautiful and beguiling schizophrenic sister, Bethany, who broke his family's heart; his tour of duty in Vietnam, which wounded him inside and out; and his childhood friend Norma, whom Smithy cruelly abandoned after an accident left her paralyzed.

Cycling westward, Smithy gets mistaken for a homeless vagrant, a con man, and a child molester—and gets run over, beat up, and threatened with a gun. But Smithy's essential decency and honesty—his innocence—shine through. As he reaches out to people in trouble he meets along the road, and in turn experiences the kindness of strangers, Smithy begins to face up to his past. He talks to Norma over the phone and finds forgiveness and love. He visits the home of the man who saved his life in Vietnam. And he conjures up his sister, Bethany, who loved him, told him the truth, and ultimately succumbed to her own inner demons.

By the end of his journey, Smithy is finally ready to bury his memories and begin a new life. Literally and figuratively, he has shed the weight of his past. Rediscovering the power of love, reexperiencing the ups and downs of human interaction, and remembering a painful past rather than washing it away with vodka, Smithy has become, almost accidentally, a American hero.



Ron McClarty is an actor best known for his work on television shows such as Sex in the City, Law & Order, The Practice, Judging Amy, and Spenser: For Hire. He has also appeared in films and onstage, where he has directed a number of his own plays, and has narrated more than fifty audio books.

You can visit Ron McLarty online at

  • Smithy Ide's bicycle odyssey begins on a whim—something he just falls into—but it winds up transforming his life. Do you think that people can change their lives profoundly without initially intending to do so? What does the novel seem to be saying about redemption and second chances?
  • As a youth, Smithy was a "running boy" who "made beelines," first on foot and later on a bike. His sister, Bethany, was always running away. And Smithy's cross-country ride is yet another kind of running. What other significance does "running" have in the book?
  • The novel intersperses chapters describing Smithy's parents' death and his ride with chapters about his youth. The present chapters are all consecutive, but his memories of the past jump around somewhat. How do the chapters about the past reflect or relate to the story of Smithy's present?
  • At the beginning of the book, Smithy is an alcoholic, and throughout the book he encounters others whose lives have been overwhelmed by alcohol or drugs. What do you think the author is saying about addiction and the stress and strain of daily life?
  • Smithy reads a number of novels about the American West while on the road. How do these relate to his own story?
  • In the book, Smithy's schizophrenic sister, Bethany, goes through periods of near normalcy, only to disappear or hurt herself when she begins to hear "the voice." She is treated by a succession of psychiatrists, none of whom seem to recognize the nature of her problems or to do her much good. Yet Bethany is always the one who tells Smithy the truth. What do you think the author is saying about madness?
  • Smithy came out of Vietnam with twenty-one bullet wounds, yet his sister's madness and disappearances seem to have wounded him much more seriously. Why do you think this is? Why is Smithy haunted by his sister's apparition?
  • On the road, Smithy encounters many people—a compassionate priest, an eccentric Greenwich Village artist, a man dying of AIDS, an angry black youth, a Colorado family, a seductive fellow cyclist, a truck driver haunted by the past, and an empathetic Asian mortician, among others. Most of the encounters are marked by kindness, some by violence, and some by both. How is Smithy changed by the people he meets? What do these people tell us about the American character?
  • As a young man, Smithy rejects Norma's schoolgirl crush on him and turns away from her altogether once she's paralyzed. His junior prom is a disaster. The prostitutes he patronizes in Vietnam hate him. And he rebuffs the advances of an attractive young woman he meets on the road. Why does Smithy seem to have so much trouble with women? Do you think his rekindled romance with Norma will work out?
  • Stephen King has called Smithy Ide an "American original" and placed him in the company of Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn, J. D. Salinger's Holden Caulfield (of The Catcher in the Rye), and Joseph Heller's Yossarian (ofCatch-22). Are there other fictional characters you would also compare him to?
  • Customer Reviews

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    The Memory of Running 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 92 reviews.
    Robbie241 More than 1 year ago
    I found this book at times difficult to read and at times it was so good and so funny that I couldn't wait to see what happened next. It took me about half way through to really get into it. By that point I was rooting for Smithy to find happiness and whatever it was he was searching for. His immediate family, extended family, friends, and all the strangers he meets along the way were very, very interesting I'm not sure why I didn't give it 5 stars. It may have been the writing style - the going from one scene to another that I didn't really like at first but eventually got used to it. At times it was complicated and at times simple. Overall, I would recommend reading it. I laughed, I felt bad, I felt good, and at one point or another, almost every other emotion available.
    sharlene_w on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
    A highly enjoyable travelogue of a man's quest to find himself. The cast of characters and incidents along the road were engaging. When I finished to book, I had an overwhelming urge to grab a bag of bananas and hit the road on a bicycle--I could stand to lose a pound or two myself! I feel like I'm best friends with Smithy Ide now.
    indygo88 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
    I'd heard this was a good book, & after reading, I think this may be my favorite of the year thus far. It's the story of a middle-aged man's self-discovery & the quest for his sister, but it's really a lot more than that. Flashing back between past & present, it actually reminded me a lot of Forrest Gump. A great blending of seriousness & humor, I found Ron McLarty's writing style right down my alley, & I'll definitely be looking into more by this author.As an audiobook, this was excellent, read by McLarty himself. He's known for his voice, & I don't believe anyone could've read this better than he did.
    burmisgal on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
    This book had been sitting unread on my shelf for years, but when it was mentioned on the TV series "In Treatment", I was motivated to give it a go. And well worth it. Not really about running, but told in flashbacks that keep the reader turning pages. This story sits on the edge of the "tall tale" and sometimes falls in and becomes almost mythical. Smithson Ide, overweight, alcoholic loser cycles his way to a makeover--gets in shape, comes to terms with the losses in his life, and, well, don't want to give it all away.
    TanyaTomato on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
    I thought I would like it, but I'm giving up. I just keep getting these little annoyances. Like, I have a cold tuna sandwich for lunch everyday. How? He is biking across the country, and for some reason we are constantly told this fact about his lunch. This and so many more reasons are just making me not want to read another word.
    Djupstrom on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
    A fat man on a bike Forest Gumping it across the country in order to "find himself"...what is not to like. This novel is funny and touching. McLarty takes us on a literary journey along with Smithy.
    mhgatti on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
    Certain books make it easy to imagine their movie pitch line, and the latest book I read is one of those books. When producers try to drum up studio interest in making the inevitable film adaptation of Ron McLarty's debut novel, The Memory of Running, it'll go something like this: "it's The Shipping News meets Forrest Gump." You take Shipping News' screwed-up simpleton Quoyle, running away from tragic events that shake him out of the rut his life has become, and you send him on a cross-country trek like that other simpleton, Gump. Now, for me this could be a problem. I was one of those party-poopers who didn't like Forrest Gump (the movie, I never read the book), but I loved The Shipping News (the book, the movie I thought suffered from a poor screenplay and even worse casting).As the Memory of Running opens, the main character, an obese middle-aged loner stuck in a dead-end job, finds out that his parents have both died in a car accident. Shortly after their funeral, Smithy (must all these strange guys have equally strange names?) gets a letter informing him that his long-lost, and mentally-unstable, sister Bethany has been found dead on the streets of Los Angeles, a homeless victim of exposure identified only by the dental records her father had continued to send out decades after she ran away from home. Bethany grew up hearing a voice that told here to harm herself, and Smithy seemed to be the only person who understood her - and the only one who could get through to her.Bethany liked to describe her little brother as a "runner," always on the move, mostly on his bike (confusing, I know, but stay with me here). After the middle-aged, overweight, and drunk Smithy finds out about his sister, he decides to ride his old Schwinn out to L.A. to retrieve her body. So you have the set-up for a dark Quoyle-like character taking Forrest's running-into-people cross-country trip.Two things save this story from becoming goofy and saccharine like Forrest Gump: one is that the story switches back and forth between Smithy's dealing with his sister in the past and his long bike ride in the present. This allows the story to move between darker and lighter moments (yes, I know that Forrest Gump had its darker parts, but they couldn't make up for all the destracting special effects in the lighter parts). The other is that the people Smithy meets along the way are ordinary people, not Gump's presidents and rock stars. While he seems to have an unusual number of bizarre run-ins, most of them don't seem too far-fetched.And while the subject matter may seem to be all about death and dying and bleakness, there are plenty of funny moments, both in the past and present stories. And, of course, there are some lessons learned and pounds shed and habits broken as Smithy rides on and on.
    tloeffler on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
    Smithson (Smithy) Ide is a middle-aged, overweight, hard-drinking resident of Providence RI. As the story begins, his parents are both killed in an auto accident. As he is going through his father's mail, he finds a letter notifying him that his schizophrenic sisters body has been found and identified by dental records, and is waiting in California to be picked up. Without thinking, Smith jumps on his old bicycle and starts pedaling to California. The chapters alternate between Smithy's current adventures and the long, strange road leading up to where he is now and where his sister is now. The chapters are short enough that this works well. I like McLarty's storytelling style. I had met him at a book-signing quite a few years back, and it added a lot to the story that I could hear his voice telling it. Good book!
    tmannix on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
    A sympathetic tale about a lonely, passive blob of a man who sits around, drinks, has a dead-end job and answers most questions with "I don't know." Smithy is haunted by memories of his schizophrenic sister who disappeared long ago and for a long-time he has just been biding time. With the death of both parents in a single car crash, Smithy is jolted into action. He takes off on his childhood Raleigh with just the clothes on his back on what turns out to be a cross-country journey. He encounters some wonderful characters along the way and slowly, subtly Smithy emerges as a guy who takes action, makes a plan, has opinions and realizes he cares deeply for the girl-next-door. She, a parapalegic, quietly encourages Smithy on his quest with her periodic phone calls. This is a sweet book, quickly read.
    dawnlovesbooks on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
    touching story about a middle-aged man who begins a bicycle journey after the death of both is parents. on the road, he meets a lot of different people on the way who al have their sad stories and help him come to terms with his own life. A sort of second chance at life for someone who's been withdrawn for most of it. great read!
    heathereb on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
    I loved this book! Smithy Ide is such a loveable character, along the lines of Forrest Gump with his naive and trusting view of the world. The characters he meets on his journey do not always treat him with the trust and compassion that he deserves. MccLarty paints a fasinating and wholly believable view of the wide range of people and views present in modern-day America. A beautiful read!
    kimoqt on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
    A guy with insomnia comes across some strange scenes out in the middle of th enigh and becomes drawn into the lives of these people.
    Borg-mx5 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
    How do we deal with the pain and loss we experience in life? Many of us seek escape. Many of us wish to just run away and start over. For Smithy Ide, his escape begins with a journey. Read this book and experience that journey.
    berylweidenbach on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
    A very good book! Anyone at any time can redeem themselves. Smithy led a sad life. told through flashbacks, you begin to understand why he got off course and the toll that mental illness can take on a whole family. All the love in the world can't save a sufferer from herself. As Smithy begins his saga after the death of his family in a weeks time, you meet the many unwitting participants in his transformation. Interesting characters all!!! Heart warming, awe inspiring, satisifying!
    hockeycrew on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
    Smithy Ide is a fat lazy slob who has just lost his entire family. Finding his old bicycle in his father's garage, he starts a cross country bicycle ride. Along the way he will discover a lot about himself, his family and the girl he ignored and neglected for years.The book alternates between past (mostly the story of his mentally ill sister) and the present, mostly his journey across america. I hated Smithy Ide as much as he hated himself. He had redeemed himself a little by the end, but I still found it difficult to grasp what moved him or those around him. I liked finding out about his sister Bethany. But I wish the book would have filled in a little more about her.
    WittyreaderLI on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
    I was never quite sure what to make of this book. And I've never wavered so much between liking a book and findin it annoying. The main character, Smithy is a fairly unlikable oath who decides to travel cross country after his entire immediate family passes away. The book flashes back and forth between present and past. And to be perfectly honest, I enjoyed the past better, where in most books, it is the total opposite. I enjoyed Smithy's sister Bethany the most. She seemed the oddest and the most interesting. I felt like a lot of the characters were strange without any kind of clear explanation as to why.So yeah, pick this up, maybe'll like it more than I did.
    InCahoots on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
    I favor nonfiction, particularly memoirs and biography. So this story was a bit of a challenge in the believability department. Despite this, I did develop a an abiding affection for this small band of misfits. McLarty does do a nice job of putting into words those internal doubts that we all share in our moments of honesty. If you like a story with a sweet (though predictable) ending, this one is for you.
    hprather on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
    Which story do you follow? Back and forth, back in forth the book goes with no more than 4 pages at a time dedicated to the here and now or 30 years ago. I just couldn't take it. Too many short snippets for a chapter and it just wasn't a book I could sink my teeth into and really grab a hold of as it simply jumped too much.I think the book could have a good depth, but nothing got going long enough before you moved on to another moment in time in Smithy's life. At times it even became more of an annoyance and became even somewhat confusing.
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    Feel like I crossed the country with him
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    I found this book to be depressing. Also I don't think that the behavior of Bethany's psychiatrists rang true. If you want to read a good book about individuals overcoming issues with depression, obesity, or having a schizophrenic sibling try Wally Lamb's "She's Come Undone" and "I Know this Much is True".
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    I very much enjoyed this book. The characters were interesting, especially Smithy and Norma. I loved hearing the story through Smithy's narration which was both funny and sad. I'm not usually a fan of books going back and forth in time by chapter, but this was an exception. A really good read!
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    Beautiful book.
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