Lord of the RamsLord of the Rams

Lord of the Rams: Media Coverage - June 2009

Unlikely Stories

This review of Lord of the Rams originally appeared in June 2009 on the Unlikely Stories website.

Anyone who knows me probably already knows I’m a sucker for a good late-night story. Some of the best moments of my life have involved those long evenings blending seamlessly with the early mornings in which there’s nothing to do but sit around some table at the end of the world and trade old war stories. Those are the moments when it’s easy to shut up and listen to a great storyteller spin an anecdote they’ve probably revised and revisited a few thousand times.

With that in mind, I’m pretty sure I’d enjoy the company of Irish writer and self-described troublemaker Ronan Smith. It’s also likely I’d enjoy listening to him relate the strange stories and often hilarious circumstances that populate the landscape Smith puts together for The Lord of the Rams: The Greatest Story Never Told. A book like this is all about tone. The voice you hear throughout the narrative has to be perfect. It has to be breezy, casual and friendly in a familiar sort of way. It has to be something you would expect from an old friend you haven’t seen in a good couple of years. Smith knows that, and he nails the tone immediately and with seemingly little effort. There’s no question that he’s probably had this book written in his head for quite some time.

The attention to the voice behind the first-person narrative is one of the nice things and also one of the downsides to the book. Told in a conversational, autobiographical tone (indeed, much of the book is apparently taken from Smith’s own life and childhood growing up in rural Ireland during the 1980’s), Lord of the Rams definitely succeeds in bringing us into Smith’s world. He’s had a good time living through these stories and probably almost as much fun putting them together for this freewheeling, chaotic affair. There’s eagerness to tell the story of his childhood, of painting warm, engaging portraits of the friends and family who have come along the way in a journey that’s taken him from Ireland’s definition of the middle-of-nowhere to the brilliant, endless streets of New York City and beyond. You can almost hear Smith’s alter-ego and narrator, Rams uproarious laughter through the pranks and friendships of his childhood, which contains many of the book’s best moments. There are memorable scenes throughout though. Like any good raconteur, Smith knows how to keep us wanting to move along to the pace he dictates. The affection for telling these stories never runs out of energy.

The problem is when that same eagerness loses something in the basic form. The invention of the podcast has given rise to a wonderful opportunity for a particularly ambitious writer. If they have the time, the desire and even the right people involved, their story can take on its most ideal form in a venue similar to the concept of an audio book or even an old-time radio show. Lord of the Rams is successful in what it really wants to do. Tell a story and bring its characters and surroundings to the kind of life Smith undoubtedly sees in his own head. But it goes back to that eagerness. In his desire to establish the perfect atmosphere and storytelling voice Smith seems to have neglected the fact that we still have to read the book. It’s easy to get caught up in The Lord of the Rams’ strengths, but it’s also easy to trip on a narrative flow that’s a little on the rough side. Smith’s talent for recreating the image of swapping stories around a kitchen table still shines through the sheer strength of his voice. However, you almost wish he would have skipped writing a book and gone straight to a medium that would highlight nothing but the book’s fine points (of which there are many). It’s a small complaint, but it’s hard to ignore that Lord of the Rams often reads like a biography told to a ghostwriter who was there to do nothing but a word-for-word translation.

It’s a small complaint, and it never comes close to overshadowing just how touching, funny and compelling the book really is. Smith’s novel certainly proves the theory that a love for the subject matter can sometimes be enough to more or less overshadow a work’s weaker points. Lord of the Rams isn’t perfect by any means, but it doesn’t try to be. It just wants to be an old friend looking to catch up on old times. To that extent, it’s an endearing winner.

Article by Gabriel Ricard

Read the review at Unlikely Stories.

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