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Published July 24th 2018
What is he running from?
Book Cover Photo courtesy Wikipedia
A neighbour had told me about a novel which his friend had written which was set in the leafy Brisbane suburb of Ashgrove called The Running Man. As someone who had grown up in Ashgrove, I was keen to find out more and read the book myself. Another friend had a copy of the book and generously lent it to me.
The story The Running Man is based on the relationship that develops between school student Joseph and his house-bound neighbour Tom Leyton who Joseph decides would be the perfect subject for his school, portraiture art project. Tom is an unlikely choice since he is a recluse who lives with his sister Caroline in Ashgrove Avenue and is the source of much neighbourhood gossip.
Rumours speculate the reasons for Tom's seclusion which raises doubts and questions whether the former school teacher and Vietnam veteran has a dangerous and violent past. The two form a friendship during the creation of the portrait and around Tom's care of silkworms cocoons.
At the centre of the story is the elusive Running Man – an unkempt, curious local who could be seen running through the neighbourhood - never walking and never speaking to anyone. He comes to represent the pain, hurt and fears that we harbour and try to run from and the judgements we make of others.
The themes of the book The Running Man has been a preferred text for students in several Ashgrove schools. It carries important themes about:
Our assumptions and prejudices The baggage and pains, unknown to most, which we carry The importance of relationship as socially underpinning our emotional and health, happiness and well-being. The malice of untested rumour and innuendo. The unending love of family during tragedy. My personal encounter with The Running Man
The character of the Running Man is based on an actual, former resident of Ashgrove Lawrence Dorrington who as a child I knew not as The Running Man but as "Speedy" since just like Joseph I would see him hurriedly running down the main suburban thoroughfare. I too was scared of Speedy though he never posed any sense of harm or threat to me. This sentiment of safety was reinforced by my father who would say "he's not going to hurt you" whenever he ran past us.
The description offered by Michael Bauer of the running man is spot on. Like him, I recall the Running Man to have a thin, wiry frame, long unkempt hair and a scruffy beard who wore the same well-worn suit with pants too short to touch his shoes. He never spoke but sometimes mumbled to himself.
About the Author - Michael Gerard Bauer The Running Man was this former English teacher's first novel. Like the characters, Michael grew up in Ashgrove and attended a local school. He tells me that while some scenes and characters in the book are fictional, others (like Mr Daly the butcher) are based on real experiences. He has gone on to write a further 16 books but admits that The Running Man is the one that continues to generate the most conversation and connection among readers.
As I was reminded, there is something special about books written in your own town. They give a sense of relatable history, realism and shared history. Having finished the book, I gave it to a new resident of Ashgrove for her to gain an insight into its past while enjoying all that it has to offer today.
The Running Man has been adapted to a play in Australia and internationally.