This is an odd book. On the one hand I quite enjoyed it while reading it, but it never made for compelling reading, and I often put off reading it in favour of doing anything else. Maybe it is because I didn’t really get the narrator, Smithy Ide, I’m not sure what it was about him, but I didn’t like him all that much. I didn’t dislike him either, I was merely a bit meh about him.
Also the style of the book took a while to get used to. Short chapters flicking back to Smithy’s past. He loses his parents suddenly in a car crash, and then discovers that his older sister, Bethany, is dead. In a drunken state he finds his old Raleigh, and goes for a cycle. And then seems unable to stop.
As he pedals across America he meets many interesting people. Some who help him, some who distrust him. Some who even shoot him. Through it all his backstory, and that of his sister is revealed.
Bethany was a beautiful girl, and it is obvious that Smithy loved her, but he also hated her a little. For she had a voice, a voice that would tell her to do things and she couldn’t but listen. To be very blunt she was crazy.
Sometimes she would strike a pose, and remain, unmoving, totally still for as long as possible. Other times she would be violent to herself, scratching her face and pulling her hair out. Sometimes she would say hateful things, and sometimes she’d just disapear. Then the whole family would set out looking for her. Smithy running or biking everywhere as he tried to find her and bring her home. But then he grew older, went to Vietnam, came back and started drinking and sitting around doing nothing more and more. He stopped being a runner, and began to put on weight. Until he became the fat, friendless 43 year old drunk he is at the start of the novel.
In essence I suppose this is a road trip novel, a story about a man “on a quest”. Although he isn’t sure what he is looking for.
As I said, I did enjoy it, but I don’t think I’d really recommend it. I found it too easy to ignore, and while on occasion there are some nice lines, and interesting sentences, I was never really engaged in the story.
I know it sounds stupid, but they were smells with muscles.
In a way I suppose I found it a little simplistic. Smithy is left alone by the death of parents, in shock he goes for a bike ride and keeps on biking. That is it. Although it isnâ€™t really. His cycle is his way of finding himself, of coming to peace with the past and the darkness of his sisterâ€™s madness.
I guess Iâ€™m more than a little ambivalent about this one.