As often happens with art, the novella I’m Not Sam began life as something else. As Jack Ketchum tells it in his introduction to the book (currently scheduled for a Winter 2012 release from Cemetery Dance), it was originally conceived as a short story that he and his co-writer, Lucky McKee, would then adapt into a short film. Although its growth to novella length made it the right size for film adaptation, Ketchum maintains that its structure, once finished, didn’t fit the rigid requirements of the typical screenplay. A film, he says, needs a third act to tie up the loose ends.
I’m Not Sam doesn’t have such an act, Ketchum writes. Instead, he describes the end as “a single punch to the gut.”
Maybe that’s trouble for a film. But for a prose story, it works pretty damn well.
Cemetery Dance has been quite brilliant in their subtle marketing approach to this book, relying on the strength of the authors’ names (and of their previous collaboration, The Woman, which Cemetery Dance also published) and keeping the details of the story largely under wraps. I’m not about to undo those efforts by going into a detailed synopsis here.
What I will tell you is this: it’s the story of an artist named Patrick and his wife, a forensic pathologist named Samantha. They share a life that’s close to idyllic. Both of them have careers they love, and they are madly in love with one another. In just a few pages, Ketchum and McKee paint a portrait of a household that is warm and inviting, a model home and a model life. The kind of marriage that everyone who marries their soul mate hopes they can maintain five, ten, fifteen years down the line. The authors place this perfect union before us, and then quite gleefully turn it upside-down. It’s a cruel act, but we know what we’re in for with these two writers – it is, in fact, the kind of show we came to see.
The end of I’m Not Sam is, as Ketchum warns us, a punch in the gut. But it’s not the first one.
Turns out it’s not the last one, either. Because immediately after the last page of that novella, you’ll find the first page of a short story. It’s called “Who’s Lily?” Ketchum warned us about that one, too. He talks about how, if we liked reading Sam, we might be temped to dive right into “Who’s Lily?” But he suggests that maybe we should wait, and let the previous story sink in a little.
I can see where he’s coming from. But Sam is such compelling, compulsive reading, and that ending is so satisfying and maddening at the same time, that it’s difficult to put the book aside and avoid those last few pages. Difficult for some – impossible for me.
Sorry, Mr. Ketchum. Sorry, Mr. McKee. I couldn’t wait. I turned the last page of I’m Not Sam and I kept right on going. And what I got was not just another punch – it was a haymaker.
In both the novella and the short story, Ketchum and McKee meld their styles into a single powerful voice. The fiction they create together continues to be compelling and fearless, going places where writers with weaker hearts (and weaker talents) dare not tread. Here’s hoping they’ve just found their groove, and that their muses continue to connect on many, many projects to come.
Preorder I’m Not Sam from Cemetery Dance.
Blu Gilliand is a freelance writer of fiction and nonfiction. He covers horror fiction at his blog, October Country and contributes interviews to the Horror World website. Follow him on Twitter at @BluGilliand.