-posted by Saul
The Loneliness of the Long Distance Rotter
Alan Sillitoe’s short story, The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner, was required reading when I was a freshman in college, and one with which I had formed a profound and abiding intellectual connection. I was a budding scientist working on an ecology project deep in the backcountry above Santa Barbara, California. The site was quite remote, requiring a ninety-minute hike through some fiercely dense scrub along the bottom of a seasonal creek named after the cut it had dug through the rock, Rattlesnake Canyon. I often lost myself inside my own head during those hikes and would be startled upon reaching my destination having only the faintest memory of the ground over which I had just traversed. (At least until the day I stumbled upon an actual rattlesnake sunning itself in my path, but that’s different story.)
Suffice it to say, there was a period of time after finishing Runner that I entertained taking up the sport of cross-country. Fortunately, twenty minutes later, the takeout pizza I had ordered was delivered, and sense returned to me. So ended my brief foray — well, mental exercise — into track-and-field.
Fast forward roughly thirty years and once more I find myself revisiting that story, its main character Smith, and the theme it embraced— not of what it must be like to be a working class young man in 1950s England, but the mental processes that Smith uses to escape thinking about his dismal prospects beyond petty crime. As a writer of zombie fiction, I can’t help but wonder what it must be like to be trapped inside the mind of one of the undead slogging through the apocalypse, nothing to do but to contemplate a future far bleaker than Smith’s, no hope and only the slimmest promise that the slow eternal jog through hell will eventually lead to some blessed salvation.