All of us are familiar with the time-worn adage "Don't quit your day job." After reading Ron McLarty's second novel, TRAVELER, one is tempted to turn that advice on its head and suggest in the strongest possible terms that McLarty consider quitting his day job and devote himself completely to writing novels. He is that good.
While the name may not ring many bells, a glance at McLarty's photo on the dust jacket of his novel is all that readers will require to recognize an actor they have seen in numerous dramatic endeavors. In addition to "Sex and the City," "Spenser for Hire" and "The Practice," McLarty has appeared frequently on "Law and Order," portraying the belligerent Judge William Wright, the bete noire to prosecutor Sam Waterston. The arrogance of this character stands in stark contrast to the novelist of TRAVELER, who has written a heartwarming and thoughtful story that is equal parts coming-of-age and mystery. While TRAVELER is in many respects a much different work from McLarty's first novel, THE MEMORY OF RUNNING, it is equally beguiling and enjoyable.
TRAVELER is the story of Jono Riley, part-time actor and full-time bartender living in Manhattan and currently dividing his time between working behind the bar at Lambs and performing in a wildly unsuccessful one-character play far off Broadway. The novel opens with Riley receiving a letter from a boyhood friend in Rhode Island informing him that his childhood girlfriend, Marie D'Agostino, has passed away. The news of Marie's death stirs various memories for Riley. Foremost of those recollections is the evening when Marie was wounded by a seemingly wild gunshot discharged in the old neighborhood by an unknown shooter.
Marie's passing is the catalyst for a return visit to the old neighborhood and the friends of Riley's youth. TRAVELER commences an intriguing journey that mixes remembrances of his younger days with the unsolved mystery surrounding what was believed to be a random act of violence, but now appears to be a serial shooting. Through a series of flashbacks expertly woven into the narrative, Riley's youth is recreated for the reader. The journey between youth and middle age introduces readers to many deep and intricate characters. In addition, they probably will experience the delight that a great novel can often produce --- the reawakening of a memory from their own personal earlier life, be it one of sadness or glee.
There is obviously a little of Ron McLarty in Jono Riley. Rhode Island is McLarty's home, and acting is his profession. TRAVELER offers a view of acting and actors that is hopeful and uplifting, and is shared by its author. THE MEMORY OF RUNNING gathered dust in a desk drawer until it was discovered by none other than Stephen King. While TRAVELER may be his second published novel, McLarty has several previously rejected, unpublished works that are now being considered by publishers. In addition, he is working on the screenplay for THE MEMORY OF RUNNING.
TRAVELER is reminiscent of the works of the late author George Higgins. Real characters confront real-life problems in a straightforward and honest style that readers will identify with. Jono Riley is the kind of fellow you would like to join for a beer and burger; McLarty also seems to be that type of man. Perhaps one day this opportunity will arise. If it does, we will have two great novels and countless incredible characters to discuss over our brews.
Reviewed by Stuart Shiffman on January 23, 2011