Adult Contemporary Fiction
Blank Slate Press
Received for review from TLC Book Tours
Warning: Review contains mild spoilers
Dale Sampson has always been the smart kid. The one who's not popular with the girls or friends with all the guys, but keeps to himself and continues to get his good grades. That all changes one day on the playground at recess when popular, athletic Mack Tucker saves Dale from some cruel girls using him to get Mack's attention.
Best friends from that moment on, Dale spends most of his high school years watching Mack get laid while nursing a crush on Regina, twin sister to Mack's current girlfriend. Though initially rejected, Dale is doggedly determined to win Regina's affections, and he seems to be making headway until she is brutally taken from him when a jealous ex-boyfriend ends her life.
Now, years later, Dale is still suffering from the pain of Regina's death, living alone and contemplating suicide on a daily basis. Things change dramatically for Dale again when he meets Regina's twin sister at her job at Wal-Mart, and makes it his new life's purpose to save her from an abusive marriage to make up for his inability to save her sister. With his unique ability to regrow limbs and organs, an ability he discovered after Regina's murder, Dale sets out to find Mack in Los Angeles, becoming the subject of a new television show he hopes will get Regina's sister's attention, and finally earn him the love he has been searching for all his life.
The Samaritan is a story that spans a mere two hundred pages yet feels infinitely longer–not because it drags or is poorly written, but rather because pain and anguish hover ominously between the pages, enveloping us in their suffocating blackness and leaving us weary and exhausted as we close the back cover and attempt to shed their lasting effects. We are unapologetically exposed to the cyclical nature of physical abuse and self-destruction, reading with increasing anxiety as the horrific rape and murder of a friend, classmate, and romantic interest infects every aspect of Dale's life. We find ourselves drawn into the never-ending emotional circle, his torment and guilt seeming to be compounded by our own as we wallow in a shared agony we know not how to escape. This is by no means an easy read, and is one that should not be entered into lightly, its language and violence both plentiful and graphic as it promises no happy endings, but rather only the dark reality of two individuals forever changed by the pull of a trigger.
For those of us used to snuggling in the warm cocoon of young adult fiction or romance where grief, misery, and and sorrow are certainly present but are often accompanied by the pulsing lifeline of hope to guide us through the trials and tribulations of that particular world, reading The Samaritan is a bit like being tossed into a tub of ice cold water. The jolt is powerful, uncomfortable, and not necessarily an experience we wish to repeat. That is absolutely not to say this is a bad book or one to be avoided, not at all, it just has a startlingly different feel to someone used to the comfort of their familiar genre. Part of the initial shock stems from both the vulgar verbal exchanges between Dale and an extremely womanizing Mack, as well as Mack's rather cavalier approach to physical intimacy–a combination that leaves us a bit overwhelmed at times by the bluntness of their thoughts on women. Though their conversations and actions are no doubt realistic, for perhaps a naive and hopeless romantic such as myself, it's a reality that leaves a lingering unpleasant residue.
The Samaritan will certainly appeal to a wide variety of readers as Mr. Venturini is a very talented writer with a gift for characterization, his story is just one where the hero doesn't always save the day or get the girl, but instead wraps himself in a blanket of guilt and shame, comforted only briefly by thoughts of suicide before pulling the blanket tighter around himself as he exists rather than lives. Mr. Venturini does add an interesting twist with Dale's ability to regrow limbs–a new and unusual approach to helping him find a purpose again. The self-sacrificing and self-destructive cycle is ever-present though, keeping both Dale and us on its painful circuitous ride as we wish more than anything we could step off and find purchase on still ground where happiness and peace might actually be able to locate us if we just remain stationary.