Veteran character actor and audiobook narrator Ron McLarty experienced a left-field success with his 2004 novel The Memory Of Running, which debuted as an audiobook before Stephen King started a campaign to shame someone into publishing it. Traveler, McLarty's second novel, suggests that King's sponsorship may have been ill-considered. While The Memory Of Running had a strong hook, following an overweight alcoholic on a cross-country bicycle trip, Traveler is the kind of misshapen genre piece with semi-autobiographical overtones that most young authors have to burn off before they learn their craft for real.
Traveler's narrator, Jono Riley, is a sometime actor and full-time bartender who travels back to his hometown of East Providence, Rhode Island when one of his childhood friends dies from a bullet wound she suffered more than 30 years earlier. Jono intends only to pay his respects, but then he starts remembering other mysterious deaths that happened when he was growing up, and he does a little casual gumshoeing, all while reflecting on what it was like to be a kid in a hardscrabble working-class community in the early '60s. Funnily enough, it was like hundreds of other books and movies about being young and blue-collar.
McLarty is certainly sincere, and in the passages of Traveler where Jono describes old hockey rinks and long-boarded-up restaurants, his yearning for closure on a life he left behind for New York is rewardingly relatable. But McLarty is a flat writer whose prose can best be described as "adjective-y," and his tone in Traveler never resolves into anything consistently wistful or absurd. It's supposed to be a joke that Jono's acting résumé consists of dead guys, mutes, and ridiculously pretentious one-act plays, but the person telling this story—so straightforward and bland—doesn't seem like the actor he describes himself as.
As for the mystery of who shot Jono's friend—a girl he loved like a sister, and looked for traces of in every woman he later knew—McLarty populates it with a generic cast of suspects, from abused children to overbearing authority figures. If this were a TV script, no one would buy it. In Traveler, the plot mainly serves as an excuse for McLarty to stroll down a memory lane supplied largely by a Hollywood prop department.