Monday, March 2, 2009

Once A Runner, Now A Writer... (a book review)

Do you have a runner or two in your book club? If so, you may want to consider adding Again to Carthage by John L. Parker, Jr. to your club's reading list.

Parker is a former attorney who once ran on the University of Florida track team, where he recorded a time of 4:06 in the mile. In 1978, he self-published 5,000 copies of Once A Runner, which Slate magazine called "the best novel ever about distance running." Runner's World labeled it, "The best novel ever written about running." High praise.

The classic "Runner" is now out of print - fetching between $70 to $350 a copy on sites like Craig's List and Bookfinder - but will be sold again via running stores and, etc., beginning in April of this year.

But you don't have to wait until April to read Parker, as Carthage (published in late 2007) is readily available. This is the sequel to Runner and deals with an attorney who is going through a mid-life and mid-career crisis. Guess what he turns to in order to attempt to find his old self? Yes, you're right, running.

The lead character, Quenton Cassidy, decides to try to become a world-class marathoner, despite his advanced age. Frankly, I had my problems with the first half of this book (which I purchased in a Fleet Feet store). The sentences tended to ramble and run on too long. Also, there was the fear that this was going to be another John Grisham-like quasi-legal novel.

Perhaps because the author came close to dying halfway through the writing, and went from typing the book on a computer to writing the finish on legal tablets, the second half is quite different. The language assumes a laser-like focus whether dealing with life and death or running; although to Parker they are mostly one and the same.

You will think you know precisely where this story is going - a major flaw for me with Grisham - but then something surprising intervenes close to the end. It may be viewed as a miracle, a near miracle, or simply Parker's acceptance of the spiritual. Either way, the novel ends brilliantly and you'll instantly wish you had a copy of Once A Runner in hand. In April you will.

I read an interview with Parker in which he made clear that for him the true test of commitment in life is how much a runner gives to his/her running. Parker, like his fictional character Cassidy, is willing to do no less than die while running. Luckily for us, Parker has survived to give his all to writing: "It was like cutting the top off my head and pouring out everything about running that was in there into this (book) and just making sure it wove into the plotline."

If I haven't been perfectly clear about this, let me say it here: runners will love this book!

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