Man I love reading. I love it so much I do it every night but lately I haven’t had that craving. The craving I get when I’m reading an especially good book. The craving I feel when the sun goes down and I know I’ll be cracking it open again soon. Or when I see it sitting on my bed, winking at me, just waiting for me to open her up. In fact that’s one of the main reasons I read so much, I’m hoping for a book so good I crave it like an only child craves attention. With The Samaritan I got my craving back in a big way.
I’ve touched on Fred Venturini’s short stories in the Death Panel and Sick Things but never gave him the fair shake he deserves. A surprising new talent hailing from Illinois, I recently read (devoured is more like it) his first novel, The Samaritan. Dale Sampson is your average small town smart kid. Always on the outside of the social circle looking in. He befriends the coolest kid in school and soon they’re inseparable. With plans for a bright future, they grow and learn together. Mack the womanizer, Dale the romantic searching for love but too scared to try. Dale finally finds that love but tragedy strikes and and injuries are dealt, and our dear narrator Dale finds out he can regrow limbs and organs. Suffering from the shock and depression of the tragedy along with the alienating knowledge that he’s a freak Dale hides himself away until he discovers a damsel in distress that he must save.
Equal parts memoir, Joe R Lansdale buddy action, and Chuck Palahniuk’s razor wit , but with more humanity and less nihilism and misanthropy, The Samaritan is engaging, funny, and intelligent. It’s clear that the author has the ability to write in a complex fashion but chooses not to. There’s tremendous restraint here so things never get too wordy. He doesn’t need to show off that he can write by using elaborate vocabulary and complicated prose, though I’m sure he could. The writing style comes off as witty without beating you over the head with it, funny without trying too hard and with damn fine character and voice. I knew Dale Sampson, parts of him are in me. I knew his best friend Mack, I knew guys like that in high school. I understand where they’re coming from and can relate to them and their struggles. That is rare. Mr. Venturini does not loathe his characters as Chuck Palahniuk always seems to, nor are the characters paragons of virtue, they’re just real. The pacing of the novel is fast and fun and I never wanted to put it down. In fact there were nights where I couldn’t and ended up dragging ass at work the next day. That’s how good it is. There’s something relatable and important here. The importance of love, and life and perspective. Rather than being a comment on today’s society, the novel is directed straight at the reader, individually and personally, without being preachy. So many times while reading this I actually laughed out loud, the only other author to do that for me is my favorite mojo story teller, Lansdale hisownself, and to compare Venturini to him is high praise indeed.
The Samaritan is a funny, tragic, important and enjoyable all rolled into one. It was a true pleasure reading it. This is exactly what I’m always searching for, an intelligent novel with true heart, power, and humor. I think I just found my new favorite author and his name is Fred Venturini. I can’t wait to hand it off to friends and family to spread the word. Do yourself a favor, pick it up. Spread the word. Highly recommended.