BitDepth 496 - October 25

Ron McLarty's novel begins life as an audiobook before getting into print.
Reversing into publication

Ron McLarty’s The Memory of Running pivots on a childhood reconnection with a bicycle and the energy it once released. Photo by Mark Lyndersay.

Smithson Ide is 43 years old and weighs a lumbering 279 pounds. He got that way by doing little or nothing over the preceding 20 years, but work in a factory adjusting arms and legs on GI Joe action figures, drinking beer and eating pretzels.
Smithy, as his few friends call him, is a doofus, a lazy man who has been utterly overwhelmed by life and over the course of Ron McLarty’s novel, The Memory of Running, he comes to an agonizingly slow understanding of his place in the universe.

The book begins with Smithy crashing a metaphorical wall when his parents slam into a concrete divider on the highway. It gives nothing away to note that the elder Ides don’t make it and shortly after, Smithy finds that his only other relative, his sister Bethany, has been found in a morgue after going missing one time too many.
McLarty’s book is engaging and agonisingly human. As Smithy Ide meanders into a journey to collect his sister’s body, bicycling from Rhode Island to Venice Beach, he takes a parallel journey through his past and we learn more about Bethany, who looms large throughout the novel possessed by a chilling dementia.

Journey of life stories can be as boring and predictable as they are uplifting for the feebleminded, but McLarty does something surprising and interesting with his protagonist in sparing him no sympathies. Smithy is so pleasantly and innocently annoying that you want to go out and find him just so to be able to hit him. Really, really hard.
Even more compelling than the story told in The Memory of Running is the tale of how it came to be.
Ron McLarty is an actor, with roles on Law and Order and other shows and a career as a successful voice performer for the audiobook industry. He has written plays performed on and near Broadway, but when he sent his first novel out for consideration, it was rejected by every publisher he could think of.

It wasn’t until he let Claudia Howard, his boss at Recorded Books read the manuscript that he found a publisher willing to take a chance on his writing.
Howard reversed the normal flow of books from pen to publication to audiobook by recording the author reading his book and releasing it as an audio original.
Running has a spare beauty as an audiobook since much of its story is told in dialogue or with Smithy’s inner voice.

It must have found a point of resonance with Stephen King because it was at this point that the famous horror author dedicated an entire column in Entertainment Weekly to the book, dubbing it “the best novel you won’t read this year.”
It’s here that I must make a confession. I bought this book months ago and forgot why. Clearly it must have been that glowing Kingly endorsement, but I came to the book, the last from a Christmas splurge, unsure of what it was doing on my iPod.
After a slow and mildly annoying start, I got into the rhythm of McLarty’s book and even began to enjoy the lack of sudden insight or epiphany in Smithy’s slow return engagement with life.
The surviving Ide is no Forrest Gump. He’s really stupid, but he knows it and is constantly trying to figure out why people are shooting or hitting him.

After Mr King’s glowing endorsement, Audible Books picked up the recording and began plugging it (well enough that I bought the book), then it made its torturous way into print from Viking.
This is quite unlike the fate of Stephen King’s own 2000 effort at subverting the publishing process, an e-book called The Plant which he planned to release in instalments but quit with the fifth episode, after some annoyed readers had paid US$7 to read the digitally distributed work.
Since then, The Plant has never taken second root, but King’s fertilizing of McLarty’s book has driven it to success. Alfonso Cuaron, director of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, has signed on to direct McLarty’s screenplay from his book and a film of The Memory of Running has much fertile ground to seed another incarnation of McLarty’s story.
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