– Dale Sampson
Dale Sampson knows all too well about embracing hurt and collecting scars. He’s that weird kid who never talked to anyone and didn’t have any friends. The one who got straight A’s but couldn’t seem to keep his shoes tied. The one who didn’t just march to the beat of a different drummer, he had an entire orchestra playing just for him. Everyone knew at least one “Dale” in middle school.
Which is where we find Dale at the beginning of The Samaritan, in middle school hell. While allowing himself to be the butt of a game called “blind man” for the amusement of a clique of popular girls, Dale runs into the school’s star baseball and basketball player, Mack Tucker. Literally. Expecting to get beat up for disrupting Mack’s pickup basketball game, Dale is surprised when Mack instead strikes up a friendly conversation with him, a conversation that actually evolves into an odd friendship.
The friendship grows deeper as they move on through middle school into high school, were Dale continues to get ace grades and Mack continues to shine athletically. With Mack’s encouragement Dale even tries out for the baseball team and goes after a girl he has a crush on. Together they make a plan to take the world by storm: Mack will play college ball then turn pro, and Dale will get his law degree and become Mack’s agent. For the first time in his life, as Dale nears graduation he thinks he sees the light at the end of the tunnel. Unfortunately, it was an oncoming train.
A shocking, tragic night of events at a graduation party leaves both Dale and Mack shot, and several other students dead. Mack’s injury makes it unlikely he’ll ever make the pros, and Dale is left with several missing fingers and a severely damaged ear. Bandaged up and sent home from the hospital, Dale is stunned at how quickly his life has changed. He’s even more stunned, however, when he takes his bandages off several days later and finds his fingers all present and accounted for and his ear completely healed as well. The only evidence there were ever any injuries, faint white scars at the points where his body regenerated.
His mother insists they tell no one, that this special gift is something that was given to him to make up for all that had been taken. When she dies from cancer two months later, Dale spirals into a depression that robs him of his motivation to do anything but sit around watching tv and playing video games. As several years pass, he and Mack grow apart and Dale gets more and more removed from human interaction, finally reaching a point where the only thing that inspires him is thinking of ways he could kill himself. (A task that is a bit more challenging than normal when your body has the pesky habit of regenerating its damaged parts.)
Inspiration and motivation reenter his life in the form of the twin sister of the girl he had a crush on in high school. She’s married now, to an abusive husband, and suddenly Dale has a purpose to his life; rescue the girl and have a second chance at happiness. One problem. She wants nothing to do with Dale. Determined to prove himself worthy, Dale uses the one unique weapon he has, his ability to regenerate body parts. With the help of old buddy Mack, Dale becomes the star of a reality tv show in which he donates his organs to needy recipients. He becomes “The Samaritan.”
The show’s a success, Dale’s wealthy and famous, and he has no shortage of admirers; he finally has everything he ever wanted. So why isn’t he happy? Perhaps, he realizes, it’s because he never wanted to be famous, he just wanted to be liked. He didn’t want to be admired, he wanted to be loved. And he wanted those things to come to him based on who he is, not what he can do. So when Dale finds himself faced with a dilemma – should he choose to save one person even though doing so will mean sacrificing one hundred? – he finally comes to understand the true worth of the power he’s been given…and that it’s not the ability itself that makes him special, but what he chooses to do with it that really matters.
Author Fred Venturini has quite skillfully crafted a deceptively simple looking little book. Checking in at a tight two hundred pages you’d think it would be a quick read, and you’d be wrong. I don’t know what weight class Venturini naturally falls into, but based on what I experienced in The Samaritan I feel confident stating that he is pound for pound, word for word, one of the best authors in the game. There is no filler in this book, and Venturini doesn’t waste time feeling his way with jabs. No, it’s body blows right from page one, leading up to that absolute gut punch of a graduation party that takes the wind out of the sails of Dale’s future, and serves extreme notice to the reader it’s time to buckle up because things are about to get raw.
Dale Sampson has what may rightly be considered a superpower, but he’s not Superman. Rather, he is a very fragile man, emotionally at least, who struggles his entire life to stay one step ahead of self loathing and despair. You wouldn’t think it possible that a book built around the hook of a character who can regenerate his body parts could feel so believably normal, but the incredibly talented Venturini has managed to make it feel just that. From the very frank presentation of the thoughts and conversations of teenage boys (crude sex talk alert), to the pain of first love and first loss, for all its “look at the freak who can re-grow body parts” oddness The Samaritan is at heart a profound look at the powerful emotions which drive our lives and make us human.
The Samaritan is available from Blank Slate Press (ASIN: B004MME1O8).
Coming tomorrow: A guest post from author Fred Venturini.
– The Samaritan by Fred Venturini –
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