The pain of the loser permeates actor/playwright McLarty’s first novel, part road story, part tragedy. It was released as an audiobook in 2000.
Vital statistics: Smithson Ide is 43, but he’s also 279 pounds, having survived for 20 years on beer and pretzels. He once weighed 121, running or biking everywhere. But now (it’s 1990) he’s a couch potato, single, living in a small Rhode Island town, working in a toy factory. As the story opens, his parents are killed in a car accident. They’d been a close-knit family, and he hates it that he’s drunk at the wake, drunk at the funeral. Then he learns that his older sister Bethany is in a Los Angeles morgue, and the shock impels Smithy to heave his fat self onto his childhood bike. His aimless start turns into a cross-country ride, and chapters alternate between his adventures on the road and Bethany’s sad history. Somewhere in her teens, she slipped into madness, posing stock-still for hours on end, or raking her skin, or speaking in a vile croak as if possessed by an alien spirit. Sometimes she’d just disappear. There were shrinks and hospital stays, and she recovered enough to date and marry, only to disappear for good on the honeymoon. Smithy has his own problems. He hates to touch or be touched. His only sex has been with ten-dollar whores in Vietnam, where he was badly wounded. Nam and Bethany were too much for him, and the beanpole became a porker filled with self-loathing. The long ride west is good for him, despite bizarre and improbable encounters (a dying AIDS patient, a gun-toting black man). Smithy stops drinking, loses 50 pounds, and is sustained by long-distance conversations with Norma, a wheelchair-bound former neighbor, every bit as lonely as Smithy. The two lost souls will come together in the Los Angeles morgue.
A dreary tale of woe, with none of the dark places illuminated. (N.B.: Stephen King has done more than blurb the book. A year ago, after he heard the audio version, he wrote a wildly enthusiastic piece for Entertainment Weekly. Immediately, there was a feeding-frenzy auction, huge advance, etc., etc.)