Saturday, May 16, 2015
Review of Once a Runner by John L. Parker, Jr.
In Once a Runner, John Parker, Jr. has gifted us the quintessential short distance (1 mile) running novel. As the publication story goes, he self-published it in the 1970s and many years later it got picked up by a major publisher and became a smash hit. Now, in 2015, with "can you run a 5 minute mile" on every serious runner's bucket list, the novel is experiencing something of a resurgence.
Parker does a fine job capturing the drama that unfolds in races of the serious running-kind. Words can never do it full justice, but Parker comes pretty darn close. I am, however, more interested in the literary merits of the novel, which no great novel can be without.
From the opening chapter with the title Once . . . to the closing chapter with the title A Runner, and all the pages in between, Parker creates excellent characters and shiny prose. The novel sets the stage even before the first chapter with its literary title. It's one thing to tell a straight up running story and quite another to put it on the page in a literary way. That's what sets Once a Runner apart.
If there is any fault in this novel it is from the dictionary words the author frequently uses in the first half of the book. Parker is not the only first time novelist to err in this direction. He is also an attorney and perhaps the BIG WORDS are in his natural vocabulary. Who knows and who cares?
Once a Runner is not a book about running. It is a literary novel of very high regard that just happens to include runners among its pages. People who never get off the sofa will love it just as much as the googley-eyed beanpole runner (of which I count myself). That is why Once a Runner has withstood 4-5 decades and is likely to withstand that many more.