Posted by

Allen Adams Allen Adams
This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

edge staff writer


Regeneration gap

Rate this item
(1 Vote)

'The Heart Does Not Grow Back' innovative, original

Some of the best stories spring from extraordinary things happening to ordinary people.

That's the crux of Fred Venturini's 'The Heart Does Not Grow Back' (Picador; $16). It's the story of a regular guy with regular ambitions who instead finds remarkable circumstances thrust upon him. It's an illustration of one life's mundane nature being turned inside-out, leaving the liver of that life to stumble his way through a unique and utterly remarkable situation.

Dale Sampson is nobody special. He's just the smart kid at his small Midwestern high school. His only claim to fame is his inexplicable-to-outsiders relationship with his best friend Mack; Mack is the school's star athlete, notorious for carving a love-em-and-leave-em swathe through the young ladies who walk the halls.

When Dale falls for one of his classmates, he finally finds a reason to speak up. Unfortunately, she doesn't feel the same; despite his best efforts, she simply doesn't see him that way. She even enters into a relationship with Dale's biggest enemy. Still, he won't give up.

But everything changes for everyone one fateful night. Tragedy tears up this small community, leaving Dale and Mack and all the rest to somehow try to pick up the pieces. Dale's life is further complicated by a bizarre turn of events; he discovers that he has a superpower.

Dale Sampson can regenerate himself.

Skin, limbs, organs Dale regenerates any piece of himself that is lost. This ability first isolates him, then draws him into the spotlight. He finds himself struggling to move into the future as he remains tethered to the past. The attentions of reality TV producers and government agents fall upon him; the only people he can truly count on are Mack and maybe another familiar face from his past. Redemption through his gift or exploitation of it the choice is his alone; he's just not sure which path he's prepared to take.

It would be easy to think of 'The Heart Does Not Grow Back' as some sort of superhero origin story which it technically is, at least to some extent but what Venturini has written is so much more than that. In Dale Sampson, we have someone who epitomizes the reluctant hero. His sense of self is a sad knot of self-loathing and confusion even when he is doing good, he questions his own motivations. He desperately clings to the past, thoughts of what has been superseding any and all thoughts of what might be.

A dark humor permeates the story, eliciting the sort of laughter than comes in lieu of tears. That comedic sense strikes a balance with the inescapable melancholy that surrounds Dale even his 'happy' moments are marked with gloom. There's a glum nobility to the character; in some circumstances, his devotion to an unrequited love lost might even feel romantic. With Dale, however, it just feels sad.

This is Venturini's debut, but he handles the narrative with the skill of a seasoned veteran. The novel's voice Dale's voice is clear and consistent and compelling. We're offered a clear view of a young man who will never understand how special he is, no matter how vehemently those closest to him exclaim otherwise. The juxtaposition of Dale's relatively bland surface and his roiling inner depths is wonderfully rendered, as is the viscerality of his pain both physical and emotional. After all, even though he heals, he still hurts.

After all, sometimes a broken heart insists on remaining so.

With 'The Heart Does Not Grow Back,' Fred Venturini has made a grand entrance into the literary realm. Consider this his origin story one whose subsequent follow-ups will likely prove well worth watching for; it is an innovative and thought-provoking work.


Website CMS and Development by Links Online Marketing, LLC, Bangor Maine