Whisky & Culture

An actor's tale

Jefferson Chase looks at a literary rule breaker
By Jefferson Chase
I love exceptions to the rule, and actors who write good novels rate pretty high on that list.So I was quite pleasantly surprised to discover that Ron McLarty, the creator of 2005’s The Memory of Running, is a veteran character actor.The story begins in Rhode island with Smithson “Smithy” Ide, a self-described overweight, alcoholic slob, mourning the sudden deaths of his parents in overweight, alcoholic, slob fashion.I had some small airplane bottles of Ten High I bought on sale at Rose’s liquor store. I kept them under the Buick’s seat...I opened one of the bottles and drank it. Sipped it, really, I sip the bourbon. Beer is more or less drunk; bourbon gets sipped. I sipped it all down, and then I sipped a couple more.The colloquial style is no accident – Running was written as an audio book and only later got published in print form.That was thanks to two factors, the first being Steven King. If the bestselling master of horror hadn’t stumbled across and liked the audio version of Running, McLarty would have had no chance with publishers.On a more tragic note, McLarty’s own parents died in a car accident in Maine just like Smithy’s.That fact lends this novel an authenticity, an undeniable depth on the subjects of death and grieving, which most likely caught King’s eye.I think when someone dies, there ought to be a process where everything about them, like bills and taxes, slows down...As a matter of fact, they seem to come quicker and louder. In my parents’ piles of bills was American Express, two separate phone bills, Mobil gas, Wood’s Heating and Oil, Visa, a Travelers Insurance Premium, and a pledge card from the East Providence Rescue Squad.And to compound Smithy’s sense of loss, a letter from Los Angeles announces the death of his sister, Bethany. She suffered from schizophrenia and disappeared, ending up as a homeless person in Tinseltown. Her story makes up roughly one half of the plot of Running.Drunken and reeling, he goes out to his father’s garage where he spots his boyhood bicycle, falling on his butt while taking it down from a rafter.My Raleigh. My maroon three-speed. I set it on its wheels and popped the kickstand. It still had the light on the front, but there were no batteries inside. It still had my small leather pack hooked on to the back of the seat. I unzipped it.“That zipper works good,” I said out loud.Before he realises what he’s doing, Smithy is riding down the road and into his own past. His journey won’t stop until he reaches the funeral home where his sister lies in state.Smithy’s trans-American jaunt is full of black humour, oscillating between the present and past, between coming to terms and sorrow.Along the way, Smithy learns the essence of personal redemption is to remember what you were like before life made you into something you don’t like.The Memory of Running drives that point home in unpretentious and entertaining, if melancholy fashion.Not bad, in my book, for a thespian.