Thursday, June 02, 2005

The Long Run of Myles Mayberry

Finished this book last week and I really liked it. It's about a man who can't stop himself from training for the Boston Marathon, which takes on much more significance for him than it has in the real world. The story's about obsession and compulsion; the main character literally cannot stop training, and even has to chain himself to his desk at night when he goes to sleep so that he doesn't wake up and find that he's running through the streets of Boston, as he did twice. His compulsion gets deeper throughout the novel and really starts to affect the rest of his mental health, causing him to buy a plane ticket to Ireland spontaneously and disembark and take a bus out to the countryside and run. He collapses from exhaustion and wakes up hours later with no idea of where or even who he is, and winds up back in Boston in a mental hospital.

He has a pregant, estranged wife on the side while all this is occuring, and their interaction helps to drive him in his quest to either break his mind or his body. You don't like him much as a character at first because he's doing all this selfish, sort of whacky shit where he fails at most things he tries, but as the story goes on and he becomes more and more obsessed with winning the marathon and justifying all his past failures with this one glorious win, you feel a little more sympathetic to him. This line at the end helps justify him: "It was dawning on him now, however dimly: We are not free to suffer because those who love us and need us suffer as well."

There's also a very good moment when Myles is on the plane to Ireland: "Myles, peering through the porthole, felt his spine bristle as he experienced an immediate and compelling affinity with what he saw. Ireland. It's real. It exists." I liked that quite a lot because I've had similar experiences when flying to places I've never been. I've never seen the Eiffel Tower, and for all I know it could be a hoax. It doesn't happen when I drive places, becuase that's more of a gradual arrival, but when flying over and landing in, say, Nova Scotia, I realize that it's real, it exists, and here I am.

Man About Town

Finished reading this book by Mark Merlis the other day. It was okay. Not great, but not terrible. The plot is a bit meandering; man gets dumped, man tries to recover, man goes through crisis at work concurrent with personal crisis. It was a bit disappointing after reading An Arrow's Flight, which was much better. I just read the Amazon review for Man About Town; they used the review published in Publisher's Weekly and I have to wonder how closely the person who read the book paid attention to what he/she was reading; it claims that the main character has a tightly-knit close circle of friends, which is crap; he really has no friends he can turn to when he's feeling bad.

It's hard to find much sympathy for this character; he goes into bars to cruise and is scornful of the type of man who shows interest in him, and yet there is much inner monologue about his own expanding waistline, wrinkles, gray hair, etc. Through this, we learn that he doesn't much like himself, and that made it harder for me as a reader to like him.

The final conflict didn't play out very well, and you're meant to understand it through just a few lines of dialogue without the overbearing inner monologue you come to expect throughout the course of the book. At times, however, the monologue has great moments, as in this one from the middle of the book:

"Memo to himself: Do not have three glasses of wine and chat with a redneck senator about AIDS."

But, while I enjoyed the actual reading of the book, I felt like I was trying to get to the meat of something and it just wasn't there.

Oh well.