Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Basking in Book Reviews

While I go through more photos of the Bakerville Marketplace and Used Book Sale, and collect lists of people to thank, let’s enjoy the first of many book reviews sent in by book club member Julia Cowans-Wilhelm. She has graciously shared her thoughts on, count ’em, seven of her recent reads. Good job, Julia! (Both the reading and the writing.) I’ve chosen the following to begin with because we just discussed it at the last book club meeting. You may remember the discussion, or you may remember swimming in the pool beforehand, or sampling Torch Lighters, or watching the muted Olympic opening ceremony in the background.

[And a pause to plug the next book club meeting: We’ll be discussing Alice in Wonderland on Friday, September 19th.]

The Memory of Running

John McLarty’s novel is a particularly disturbing exploration of mental illness and the misfortune that befalls his benevolent, but overwhelmed, protagonist Smithy Ide. While the plot focuses on the loss of his parents and the transcontinental bike trek he undertakes, the book seems to be more an unraveling of the twisted family history—especially the mental illness of his beautiful exhibitionist sister Bethany Ide.

McLarty evokes the reader’s pity for the now overweight brother Smithson who has spent much of his life in the shadows of his needy, but beloved sister. To me, the series of problems he fails to confront are problematic; I question what his actual emotional and intellectual intelligence/ability is and whether the entire family had needs that went unrecognized or diagnosed, causing them all to be somewhat debilitated or limited. Smithy’s “love” for his childhood friend, who is handicapped and lives “independently” with her parents next door, seems more of a crutch than a real bond. Having been raised in a relatively normal (if such a thing really exists) family, this story seemed both improbable and unconvincing to me.

The symbolic quest/trek Smithy takes to retrieve Bethany and put to rest the pain she has caused him enables him to better see her for who she is, but most importantly, it allows him to begin to find himself after the recent death of his parents. Smithy in his “simple” way sees the good in humanity and exposes the prejudice, the violence, and the inhumanity of the species as well.

Key topics for discussion relating to mental illness are death and depression, multiple personalities and exhibitionism, suicide, alcoholism, obesity, or familial effects/roles when mental illness exists.

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