#RRSciFiMonth: The Heart Does Not Grow Back by Fred Venturini
Sci-Fi November is a month-long blog event hosted by Oh The Books and Rinn Reads this year, created to celebrate everything amazing about science fiction! From TV shows to movies, books to comics, and everything else in between, it is intended to help science fiction lovers share their love and passion for this genre and its many, many fandoms.
Genre: Science Fiction
Series: Stand Alone
Publisher: Picador (November 4, 2014)
Mogsy’s Rating: 4 of 5 stars
The Heart Does Not Grow Back was an unexpected surprise. I saw some readers designate it as Science Fiction, others who describe it as Horror, and even a few who tagged it as a superhero novel. As it often is in these cases, every single one of these categorizations are accurate, but none of them tell the whole story. It’s definitely a tough book to describe, but I’m also really glad I went into it with very little information, because I loved how everything unfolded before me and threw me for a loop at every turn.
The introduction was probably the most powerful but also most brutal part of the book. When I was reading the first few chapters, my mind went to Stephen King – not really in terms of the storytelling or writing style, but in the whole vibe of a boyhood camaraderie that binds together two young friends, and how even in small sleepy towns you will find evil people with darkness in their hearts. Once upon a time, a geek and a jock met each other on the playground and became the best of friends. But months before their high school graduation, a violent and unthinkable tragedy destroys Mack Tucker’s chances of ever becoming a professional baseball player, and Dale Sampson loses the love of his life but also discovers he possesses the ability to regenerate.
Dale’s story takes a turn for the grim and bleak, full of regrets and what-could-have-beens. Despite winning the evolutionary lottery with his amazing regeneration powers, he falls into a downward spiral of depression and apathy, until one day a girl from his past walks back into his life and gives it some meaning again.
So, what can a guy with the miraculous ability to heal and regenerate himself do in order to turn his life around, become the hero and save the girl? Dale gets together with his old friend Mack and the two come up with a plan that ends up being as insane as it is darkly hilarious. Two words: Reality TV. I wouldn’t have seen that coming in a million years.
As outlandish as the premise sounds, Fred Venturini makes it all work wonderfully, making this an intensely engaging read. I was always left wondering where the story will go next, even though the characters themselves remain quite static and predictable when it comes to personality. Mack is a crude womanizing meathead, and Dale is a sad one-man pity party who hits rock bottom and stays there for much of the book. None of the characters are particularly likeable and there was no one in this book whose neck I didn’t want to wring at least once, though there is no doubt that all of this is by design. The author clearly meant for his narrator to be deeply flawed and broken with a defeatist and almost transgressive attitude towards life and love – a result from the traumatic events of his past. Dale is standoffish and has deep-seated issues when it comes to women, but at least we are in the position to understand why.
The ending is what really pulls it all together, resolving the conflicts and all the relationships while offering a glimmer of hope and a reason to be optimistic. Still, I wouldn’t go as far as to call this a happy book. I enjoy stories where characters are put in difficult situations; part of the fun is watching them overcome those obstacles to emerge victorious, after all. But Venturini is an author who seriously puts his characters through the wringer. I mean that as a compliment more than anything, given the way Dale to pushed to the very edge thus making his eventual turnaround all the more satisfying and meaningful. Nevertheless, I still felt the need for a cheerier book after this.
Was it worth the read, though? Heck, was it ever. I was surprised when I looked up the author and saw that The Heart Does Not Grow Back was his first novel (though it was first published a few years ago under a different title, The Samaritan) because of how strong and polished the writing was. I’ll be keeping an eye out for any other books by him in the future.
A review copy of this book was provided to me by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. My thanks to Picador!