“Samson and Denial” is a new novella from Bob Ford. Part good old-fashioned horror story, part character study on the necessity and danger of denial as a survival mechanism – it’s an engrossing story that hides a surprising depth. Ford packs a hell of a lot (and a lot of hell) in to these 125 pages.
The story follows Samson, a man of not a few faults and shortcomings:
We’ve never met, you know me. There’s someone like me in every crowd.
I’m the guy who always has a stain on his shirt or has his fly unzipped. I’m the guy who leaves the men’s room with a ribbon of toilet paper trailing from the heel of his shoe. On a Chinese calendar I’m the guy who’s born in the year of the pig or the rabbit or the cock. Never something cool like the year of the tiger or the dragon.
I’m never the cool guy.
Samson runs a pawnshop in Philly, a job that gives him a front row seat to the underside of desperation. When a junkie comes in looking to pawn a mummified head to pay for his next fix, Samson does what any good pawnshop owner would do – he lowballs the junkie and gets the head for $20.
Along with running the pawnshop, Samson also has a small drug dealing business on the side with his brother. Unfortunately, his brother has more ambition than he has brains, and runs afoul of the Russian mob. Samson is inextricably drawn down into the hole his brother has created, but finds an unlikely savior in the shrunken head; if by savior you mean – “ticket from the proverbial frying pan into the ancient fire of vengeance”.
This story is “Jumanji” as re-imagined by Quentin Tarantino and directed by David Fincher. There is a little something here for everyone – Russian drug kingpins, schoolyard bullies, love, shrunken heads (capable of melting a man into a puddle of goo), a hooker with a heart of gold, betrayal, and a screaming mob of naked women covered in blood. As I said, Ford packs a hell of a lot into the story.
While navigating this whirlwind, Ford writes with a gritty style that wastes few words and pulls even fewer punches. He’s not afraid to be blunt, but it’s never visceral for the sake of shock value alone. With such a potentially rich canvas of situations, it would be easy to lose the story, but he gets inside the heads of his characters and is happy to give the reader a guided tour. Samson is a robust protagonist who makes a connection with the reader in spite of (and at times because of) his flaws.
What paid the story off for me was given right up front in the title itself – “Samson and Denial”. Much of what befalls Samson can be traced back to his denial of the realities around him. He doesn’t see the writing on the wall, or the underlying lies that form the basis of the relationships in his life. Even in the end, he is left desperately trying to convince himself he can forget what has happened and move on. I don’t think he’ll find that peace he’s looking for. As he says:
The more people that know something, the harder it is for you to forget it yourself.
I enjoyed “Samson and Denial” and left the story not knowing whom I wanted to learn more about in the future – Samson or the shrunken head of Tathan Ba. I think they both have more than a few words left in them. Samson, as a flawed man searching for a contentment that will only come in accepting the world around him; Tathan Ba as a tremendous construct for exploring man’s darker side, the thirst for revenge, and the price of both. I think Ford is someone to keep your eye on, and I’ll be anxiously waiting to see what he puts out next.
“Samson and Denial” will officially be released at Horrorfind Weekend in Gettysburg, PA (September 2-4). After that, it will be available in a limited edition from Thunderstorm Books. You can find Bob online here, and on Twitter here.
My favorite words from “Samson and Denial”
It was an expression you come to see a lot in the city, always after something bad has gone down. It’s a mixture of sadness and a realization of how shitty life can be sometimes, though there’s not a damn thing you can do about it. It’s a look of shared surrender to the things life throws at you.
Yeah, I knew the smart play, all right. But sometimes, you just have to say fuck it and do what you have to do. Sometimes even when there’s a choice to make, there’s not.
I realized what I saw was what happens when you pray to a god that has gone ignored for centuries – vengeance itself, ready and willing to be unleashed.
* A copy of this book was provided to thewordzombie.com by the author for purposes of this review.
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