When Robert Earl Stewart sees his pants lying across the end of his bed, they remind him of a flag draped over a coffin — his coffin. At thirty-eight years old he weighs 368 pounds and is slowly eating himself to death. The only thing that helps him deal with the fear and shame is eating. But one day, following a terrifying doctor’s appointment, he goes for a walk — an act that sets The Running-Shaped Hole in motion. Within a year, he is running long distances, fulfilling his mother’s dying wishes, reversing the disastrous course of his eating, losing 140 pounds, and, after several mishaps and jail time, eventually running the Detroit Free Press Half-Marathon.
I jumped at the opportunity to read The Running-Shaped Hole. Like most reader-runners I know, I love to read and I love to run and I really love to read about running. And sometimes my on again-off again runner status is inspired by it. That’s at the root of what I was going for here and, you know what? It worked. As soon as this snowy PNW thaws out, I’ll be lacing up the new shoes I got for Christmas and hitting the trails. (Even when I am on again, I am terrified of running in slippery conditions.)
This book title refers to running, but honestly, it is much richer than that. Stewart begins by sharing his story of alcohol addiction, his journey through recovery and how that journey neglected to consider his whole health. Yes, he gave up drinking, but he used an inappropriate relationship with food to cope. He takes us through the story of meeting his future wife, their courtship, growing their family. He also talks about his education, his career and how he discovered himself as a poet. His memoir leaves nothing out, finally landing us in the time and place when running makes its debut.
Reading Stewart’s experience with learning to run and navigating the complexities of learn to run groups, the etiquette involved when dealing with other runners and the transition from civilian to runner was so relatable. There were so many times when he articulated thoughts and feelings I have had and in which I was convinced I was alone.
Stewart lives in Windsor, Ontario and I became fascinated with The Detroit Free Press Marathon (the only marathon in the world to cross international borders!) throughout this book as Stewart makes a couple of attempts before (spoiler alert!) successfully running it. I really enjoyed learning about it and have contemplated the logistics of getting there and running in a number of times while still reading the book and since.
The title refers to Blaise Pascal’s notion of the god-shaped hole, an empty place in our hearts that only god can fill. When one embarks on learning to running or making running a part of their life, there is a revelatory and often revolutionary experience that comes along with it. Stewart does an excellent job of articulating that. He keeps his story very real and, for me, as a reader, there is no greater reward.I also particularly enjoyed his slightly catty, but very justified setting straight of the record as it relates to a certain neighbourhood altercation. (Shame on you, Sandra!)
The Running-Shaped Hole will be out on February 22nd and is available for preorder now.
Thank you to Netgalley and Dundurn Press for giving me an opportunity to read an advanced copy.