From the publisher:
Wall Street Journal and New York Times bestselling author Robert Dugoni’s coming-of-age story is, according to Booklist, “a novel that, if it doesn’t cross entirely over into John Irving territory, certainly nestles in close to the border.”
Sam Hill always saw the world through different eyes. Born with red pupils, he was called “Devil Boy” or Sam “Hell” by his classmates; “God’s will” is what his mother called his ocular albinism. Her words were of little comfort, but Sam persevered, buoyed by his mother’s devout faith, his father’s practical wisdom, and his two other misfit friends.
Sam believed it was God who sent Ernie Cantwell, the only African American kid in his class, to be the friend he so desperately needed. And that it was God’s idea for Mickie Kennedy to storm into Our Lady of Mercy like a tornado, uprooting every rule Sam had been taught about boys and girls.
Forty years later, Sam, a small-town eye doctor, is no longer certain anything was by design—especially not the tragedy that caused him to turn his back on his friends, his hometown, and the life he’d always known. Running from the pain, eyes closed, served little purpose. Now, as he looks back on his life, Sam embarks on a journey that will take him halfway around the world. This time, his eyes are wide open—bringing into clear view what changed him, defined him, and made him so afraid, until he can finally see what truly matters.
I’ve read most of Dugoni’s books so I’m not sure how I missed this one, especially since he was kind enough to cough up a signed copy for the April 2018 ITW Bookshelf giveaway! It just fell through the cracks of my Kindle, I guess. But luckily, it came up at a Palm Beach County Literacy Coalition meeting on Read Together Palm Beach County. Everyone on the committee submitted titles they thought were good and we all were supposed to read them, or at least take a good look at them. This is one book that I read cover to cover.
This is a very different story than the rest of Dugoni’s books, which are all crime fiction and are all very good. But this book is not a thriller, it is a bildungsroman (please excuse my flexing my English degree; I get giddy when I can dust something off and actually use what I learned,) so:
Bildungsroman is a literary genre that focuses on the psychological and moral growth of the protagonist from youth to adulthood, in which character change is extremely important. (Wikipedia)
And that, my friends, perfectly describes this novel that is reminiscent of a few of my favorite books, like A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving, Empire Falls by Richard Russo and Brady Udall’s The Miracle Life of Edgar Mint. Our main character is Sam Hill, AKA Sam Hell, who is born with ocular albinism, which means that the irises of his eyes are red instead of the usual brown, blue, hazel, etc. and hence the nickname. We meet Sam at birth, along with his parents who are practicing Catholics, and by that I mean their lives, especially his mother’s, revolve around the church. So it’s only natural that when it is time for Sam to start school, they want him at the local parochial school. His mother has to fight to get him in and makes a life-long enemy of the sister in charge of the school.
But it is Sam who bears the brunt of it. He is bullied for most of his life and learns to deal with it in his own way, with the help of his one friend, a black boy who is also subject to bullying, at least until his athletic prowess lifts him beyond such abuse. I would have had a much harder time reading some of this if Dugoni hadn’t written the book in two timelines; Sam growing up, and Sam as an adult. So we know fairly early that he will survive the bullying and that helped me get through it.
The writing is really good, almost ethereal in parts, which seems fitting for a book steeped in Catholicism. In fact, I asked Dugoni if I could borrow a few lines from the book for my mother-of-the-groom speech and he was kind enough to allow it. This is the passage in its entirety, I only used a bit of it. But this beautifully illustrates the writing, I think:
There comes a day in every man’s life when he stops looking forward and starts looking back.
Because of my father’s circumstances, I had a sad commentary on life, but I now understood that he was offering me his own gift, one that only time can provide. He was offering me the gift of perspective. My father was telling me that while we tend to remember the dramatic incidents that change history—Armstrong’s walk on the moon, Nixon’s resignation, and the Loma Prieta earthquake—we live for the quiet, intimate moments that mark not our calendars, but our hearts: The day we marry. The days our children are born. Their first step. Their first word. Their first day of school. And when our children grow, we remember those moments with a touch of melancholy: the day they get their driver’s license, the day we drive them to college, the day they marry, and the day they have their children.
And the cycle begins anew.
We realize it is in those quiet moments that each of us has the ability to make our lives extraordinary.
The Extraordinary Life of Sam Hell is, well, an extraordinary read. And it’s not just me saying this:
An Amazon Best Book of the Month: Literature & Fiction Category
“This is the bestselling Dugoni’s masterpiece, the book by which his work, and that of others, will be measured for years to come.” —Providence Journal
“Dugoni has produced a novel that, if it doesn’t cross entirely over into John Irving territory, certainly nestles in close to the border…Told in two separate time lines (Sam as a boy, and Sam as a man) that eventually come together, and written in a gentle, introspective yet dramatic style that is very different from that of Dugoni’s crime fiction, this is an inspirational story of a man who spends a lifetime getting to know himself.” —Booklist
“Robert Dugoni has a rare and brilliant talent for infusing his characters with complex emotions. It is very hard not to ache for young Sam…Frankly, this might be the best book of the year.” —Bookreporter
“Distinctly different in style from Dugoni’s typical fare, The Extraordinary Life of Sam Hell, is a captivating and poignant journey of strength and the power of finding your true self. Without a doubt, this is Dugoni’s best yet.” —Suspense Magazine
“Dugoni’s writing is compellingly quick, simple, and evocative; readers will immediately empathize with young Sam and will race to discover how his story ends. The Extraordinary Life of Sam Hell is a heartwarming novel that celebrates overcoming the unfairnesses of life.” —Seattle Book Review
Don’t miss it.
7/19 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™
THE EXTRAORDINARY LIFE OF SAM HELL by Robert Dugoni. Lake Union Publishing (April 24, 2018). ISBN 978-1503948976. 447p.
This entry was posted on Thursday, July 18th, 2019 at 6:00 AM and is filed under Book Reviews, Fiction. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.