Boyhood friendships and dreams are reshaped by mysteries that resonate for decades in the veteran character actor’s flavorful successor to his well-received debut novel, The Memory of Running (2005).
Like that novel, this one takes the form of a journey—undertaken by middle-aged bartender and working actor Jono Riley, its narrator. When old friend Cubby D’Agostino notifies Jono of the death of his sister Marie (whom Jono had not so secretly loved when they were kids), a trip back to his old East Providence, R.I., neighborhood coincides with a flood of sometimes wistful, but often painful, memories—as well as unanswered questions. Who fired the shotgun, wounding 12-year-old Marie, who lived 40 years with a bullet in her back, until it “traveled,” finally killing her? What is the secret that made Jono’s “Portagee” buddy Bobby Fontes old before his time, and deepened the vulnerability none of his old friends had ever sensed? The book feels somewhat muddled early on, as McLarty awkwardly juggles interlocking flashbacks, but the story quickly settles into a lucid juxtaposition of past and present. There’s some charmingly funny stuff about adolescent camaraderie and mischief, and Jono’s wry, salty voice is a pleasure to listen to (even when McLarty regales us with rather too many theater-related anecdotes). Nice supporting characters, too, including Jono’s tenderhearted tough-broad girlfriend Renée, Bobby’s pathetic drunken inamorata Colleen, brutal neighborhood bully “Poochy” Ponserelli and 390-pound bouncer (and bibliophile) Randall Pound.
Contains too many echoes of films (from The Deer Hunter to Mean Streets to Sleepers), including particularly significant debts to Dennis Lehane’s Mystic River and the Clint Eastwood adaptation thereof. Still, a lively, big-hearted tale, drenched in gritty working-class ambience.