My gig at EW isn’t writing book reviews, but I
can still state with a fair degree of certainty that Ron McLarty’s
”The Memory of Running” is the best novel you won’t read this year.
But you can experience it, and I’m all but positive that you’ll thank
me for the tip if you do.
”Memory” is the story of 279-pound Smithson Ide, a
smokes-too-much, drinks-too-much, eats-too-much heart attack waiting to
happen. I mean, this guy is a mess — a lovely, addled mess. And then
one day, Smithy finds himself riding across America with his ”fat
ass” hanging over the seat of his boyhood bicycle. He’s on his way
from Rhode Island to L.A. — where he aims to retrieve his sister’s
body from the county morgue — and along the road he meets a parade of
colorful characters. Unlike Huck Finn’s adventures, Smithy’s don’t
amount to literature, but they are always entertaining and sometimes
So why can’t you read it? Because — so far, at least — no publisher will touch it with a 10-foot pole.
CNN expressed it better than I will. The first few paragraphs of their article bear repeating:
Ron McLarty wrote an 800-page novel at age 24. When publishers showed no interest, he wrote another and another. After the third, a novel called "The Memory of Running," he finally gave up sending manuscripts to publishers.
But he kept writing.
McLarty went on to finish 44 plays, nine novels and assorted poems without ever publishing a word. He supported himself as an actor through voice-overs, audiobooks and advertisements. He appeared on Broadway in 1972’s "Moonchildren" and 1991’s "Our Country’s Good," and on TV in such series as "Spenser: For Hire," "Cop Rock" and "Sex and the City."
Then last September — after a lonely 35-year literary odyssey involving a thoughtful audiobook producer, a small-town librarian, and novelists Danielle Steel and Stephen King — Ron McLarty got published at age 56.
Top publishers in the industry all placed bids for "The Memory of Running." It was roughly 15 years after McLarty wrote it in 1988 and two weeks after King wrote an Entertainment Weekly magazine column in which he called McLarty’s manuscript "the best novel you won’t read this year." Viking, a division of Penguin Group (USA) Inc., eventually won the auction with a two-book deal for just over $2 million.
Now isn’t that a big warm fuzzy story and a bit of an indictment on publishing houses?