Friday, February 13, 2009

The Girl Who Wanted To Run The Boston Marathon
Robert McKay
1979, Elsevier/Nelson Books

"That's very enlightening, but I didn't ask you about Bill Rodgers. I asked you why you weren't running in the Marathon."

He looked across the water again. "I'm not going to run because it's not that important to me, and I'm not going to let it become that important to me."

Chris Cole is in training to run in the Boston Marathon. Seventeen, bored and homesick for the Vancouver island where she grew up, she's come with her alcoholic dad, a famous writer, to Boston to live and finds the famous marathon somehow compelling in her boredom. Skip Malone is in his early 20s, and emphatically not in training for the marathon, despite his impressive running record. They meet in the park, and after a few skirmishes Chris asks him for help with her running. And then - tragedy.

It happened in the second mile. She was sailing along, feeling great, when her legs went out from under her as though someone had cut them off with a giant scythe.

I loved Robert McKay's Dave's Song for years, even though it was a dated and extremely stiff book when read in the 1980s (and, I suspect, even when it was written in the 1960s), so I keep an eye out for Robert McKay's other, much harder to find books. I am usually disappointed. Dave's Song had the charm of those ridiculous, fascinating chickens, and Dave's brooding outsider status and the heroine's intelligent restlessness. Most of the other books lack something. This one has an interesting heroine it abandons halfway through, a reasonably attractive hero who never quite manages to overcome the deluge of plot heaped on him, and a genuinely passionate regard for running which is abandoned and buried by an author who apparently decides to change the entire thrust of the book at the halfway mark.

The abrupt, wary style with which every character speaks and views the world is repetitive - the rich boy/poor boy, independent girl, drunk writer and concerned doctor all have variations on this personality. The writing style is short, sharp, and therefore easy to fall into reading, but it never deepens or seems to reveal anything; it's as hostile and untrusting as the characters. A very, very 1970's book, much more so than Dave's Song, which had a sweet hopefulness beneath the cynical edge. Still a more convincing, more compelling book than The Troublemaker, which was laden down with 'relevance.'

Other Books by the Author
Canary Red
Dave's Song
The Troublemaker
The Running Back

About the Author
McKay was in prison in Ohio when he wrote Canary Red, which deals with a man who is, like McKay, a prisoner who raises canaries.

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