Word by Word

Practical insights for writers from Jessica P Morrell

Hooked: The Dropper by Ron McLarty

Written By: Jessica Morrell - Aug• 17•18

We’ve got a few days respite from the heat here and the wildfire smoke that was choking our region has dissipated, though fires are still burning. The good news is that one fire to the east of the Cascades is nearly contained.

Ron McLarty wrote one of my favorite all-time novels, The Memory of Running. If you’ve never read this big-hearted book, I cannot recommend it enough. And it follows one of my favorite protagonists, hard- luck Smithy Ide. I was thinking about McLarty a few days ago and realized I hadn’t kept up with his writing career and was happy to discover that he’s written two books I haven’t read yet.

Which brings me to The Dropper, a book I’ll be buying in the next few days. I wanted to point out the elegant opening paragraphs because they’re a terrific example of how to hook a reader. It does so with a sorrowful narrator looking back at his life with regret, guilt, and nostalgia. A narrator-protagonist, who at 87 has upended his life and moved to England.  And his name is Shoe Horn.

The Dropper, Larry McLarty:

My brother, Bobby Horn, has lived in my dreams for seventy years.  He stands bouncing his ball in the shadow of the special school for special people, staring out at a world he cannot understand. He is fifteen, and his sweet, beautiful round face perches on that tall skinny body like a new moon. He sways and jerks his hands and shoulders but keeps his eyes on some distant mystery. I stand facing him night after night, year after year, decade after decade, and while Bobby Horn remains unchanged, I have shriveled into an eighty-seven year old man slowly disappearing from this earth like smoke from a cigarette.

For some years now, when I wake from this dream, I must lie still in my bed until whoever I might be returns and fills me. I lay staring at the ceiling wondering if today I will not come back but linger inside the dream to face my brother forever with shame and sorrow. I catch my name and say it for one more day.

“Shoe Horn. Shoe Horn. Me.”

I struggle from my bed into a chair by the window and look out over the Irish Sea. Yes. I remember now that I have come back. Back to familiar smells and murky skies. I light a cigarette, my eighty year habit, and gasp between puffs.

“Shoe Horn.”  I say to the sea.

Three days ago I closed my shop and left East Providence, Rhode Island, for England. For Barrow-in-Furness for the life I must call upon and be sure of. This day I will walk through the places and people of that life again and left my old bones do the remembering. I’ll start at St. Mark’s Church. Yes. That minister. How can I remember what he said as if it was only yesterday and I was seventeen once more.

“Some say it’s Death, Some say it’s darkness,

I say it’s a game of light.”

I’m old enough to report that the dead and long-ago dead visit my dreams and I wake with a churn of sadness and relief.  I need to find out what the title means. I need to understand Bobby Horn’s vision of a distant mystery. ‘Game of light’ has been playing in my imagination since I encountered the words yesterday. And why Shoe Horn?  Want to join me in reading this beauty? I promise you’ll be in the capable hands of wise and wily storyteller.

Keep writing, keep dreaming, have heart

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