To age is to embrace a slow hurt inside and out, to collect scars like rings on a tree, dark and weathered and sometimes only visible if someone cuts deep enough. Scars keep the past just close enough to touch, but healing is forgetting. Healing invites another cut. Healing is the tide that smoothes away our line in the sand. For life to begin, the damage must be permanent.
– Dale Sampson, The Samaritan

Thanks to the great people over at Blank Slate Press I received an advanced copy of their debut novel, The Samaritan by Fred Venturini. I wasn’t sure what to expect after reading the description on their site.

Dale Sampson is a nobody. A small town geek who lives in the shadow of his best friend, the high school baseball star, it takes him years to even gather the courage to actually talk to a girl. It doesn’t go well. Then, just when he thinks there’s a glimmer of hope for his love life, he loses everything.

When Dale runs into the twin sister of the girl he loved and lost, he finds his calling–he will become a samaritan. Determined to rescue her from a violent marriage, and redeem himself in the process, he decides to use the only “weapon” he has–besides a toaster. His weapon, the inexplicable ability to regenerate injured body parts, leads him to fame and fortune as the star of a blockbuster TV reality show where he learns that being The Samaritan is a heartbreaking affair. Especially when the one person you want to save doesn’t want saving.

The Samaritan is a brutally funny look at the dark side of human nature. It lays bare the raw emotions and disappointments of small town life and best friends, of school bullies and first loves, of ruthless profiteers and self-aggrandizing promoters—and of having everything you know about human worth and frailty questioned under the harsh klieg lights of fame.

I started reading the book and instantly knew it would be something right up my alley. Dale, the main character, is painted in such a way that I immediately related with his middle and high school social struggles. I really felt for Dale when he was unable to speak to the girls in his class (and as we learn, this never went away). Because the character felt so authentic, I could picture myself (or almost any of my friends) in his situation. Dale wasn’t the only character spewing authenticity. His best friend Mack encompassed parts of many of my friends as well. It felt like I really knew these characters as I read the novel.

The setting was also something that seemed to take on a life of its own. Perhaps it’s because I’m also from the Midwest, but I could picture any number of the places described in the book perfectly. In fact, the only issue I had with it is how quickly it jumped from location to location. One minute he’s in a town fighting the local meth dealer and the next he’s meeting with a studio executive to create a television series. I really think that the stories that took place in each of those settings could have been developed more. Perhaps some more confrontations with the abusive husband meth dealer and his wife or perhaps a bit more conflict with Doc before Dale jetted off to California. It would have really been great to see Dale suffer a bit more while in California. Sure, his battle with his inner demons and the people creating the show were apparent, but it could have used a little more story development to show how truly conflicted Dale was.

All in all it was a great read. I really enjoyed it and can’t wait to read more from Venturini. Venturini’s story and style reminds me a lot of Chuck Palahniuk, and that’s a good thing. I’m constantly looking for authors that can tell a story where everything about it feels real. This is one of those. I don’t want to go into great detail about the story and plot, read it for yourselves, it’s worth it.