The Heart Does Not Grow Back – Fred Venturini

About the Book


Dale Sampson is used to being a nonperson at his small-town Midwestern high school, picking up the scraps of his charismatic lothario of a best friend, Mack. He comforts himself with the certainty that his stellar academic record and brains will bring him the adulation that has evaded him in high school. But when an unthinkable catastrophe tears away the one girl he ever had a chance with, his life takes a bizarre turn as he discovers an inexplicable power: He can regenerate his organs and limbs.

When a chance encounter brings him face to face with a girl from his past, he decides that he must use his gift to save her from a violent husband and dismal future. His quest takes him to the glitz and greed of Hollywood, and into the crosshairs of shadowy forces bent on using and abusing his gift. Can Dale use his power to redeem himself and those he loves, or will the one thing that finally makes him special be his demise? The Heart Does Not Grow Back is a darkly comic, starkly original take on the superhero tale, introducing an exceptional new literary voice in Fred Venturini.

320 pages (paperback)
Published on November 4, 2014
Published by Picador
Author’s webpage
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This book was sent for me to review by the publisher.

I read this book in fits and starts because I didn’t really like any of the characters. Then, I realized that not liking the characters is, oddly enough, part of why I ended up enjoying the book so much. At that point, I started devouring it. You see, there is nothing inherently wrong with The Heart Does Not Grow Back, but it’s so absolutely realistic in terms of characterization that sometimes it can be very hard to read.

And isn’t that really a wonderful thing?

The Heart Does Not Grow Back is less of a story about a man coming to terms with his superpower (being able to regenerate organs) and more of a tale of a man coming to terms with a tragic event in his past. What makes this tale even more interesting is the fact that all of the characters are deeply flawed. Dale is rather obsessive, and tends to fall in love/lust with women for almost no reason instantly. His best friend Mack is working through his issues by crossing the United States and leaving a string of one night stands behind him. Then there are issues of domestic abuse, and reality TV, being famous, and the ethics of it all.

It’s a pretty toxic stew flavored with all sorts of people who have some very real issues.

Dale is a character that I just about loathed the throughout entire novel, which, as I mentioned above, ended up being a strength. If an author can make me feel strongly about a character, regardless of what those emotions are, he’s doing something right. However, the issue I had with Dale was how quickly he seemed to swing from one extreme to the other, often flipping between being incredibly selfish and self-centered and then very, very altruistic in the space of a page. Frequently his reasons for doing anything, whether selfish or altruistic, were very similar, which launched him nicely into the moral gray zone that I love so much. But this isn’t a comfortable moral gray zone. Anyone who is willing to cut his own toes off repeatedly makes me squirm a bit.

The Heart Does Not Grow Back is hard to parse and pick at because it is so incredibly intense, and so deliciously uncomfortable. This is a book about ethics, told through the perspective of a person that you probably won’t like that much. You probably won’t like his friends much either. It’s not that they are bad people, but they are strong personalities in an even stronger plot, and that can cause some friction. However, Venturini was smart by using characters like this in his book. Sometimes being uncomfortable is a good thing, and in this case it made and already powerful book even moreso, and launched it firmly into the “unforgettable” category.

The writing is strong and fluid, and incredibly, painfully honest. Dale is nothing if not honest with himself. He knows all about his strengths and weaknesses, and his honest voice really punts readers into the plot in a rather visceral way. He hides nothing, and while there will be some surprises and twists in the plot, Dale’s honesty, and rather cynical and jaded nature will drive you through those twists pretty easily and almost brutally. That’s really one of the shining points of the book itself – it’s brutal. There are so many complex issues and ethics being addressed, that a little brutality, a refusal to hide any of the dirty details, is actually quite welcome.

So what, exactly is this book about?

It’s a sort of coming of age tale told about a loner kid with a life you really wouldn’t want who can regenerate his organs. It’s a fight for survival in a world he doesn’t really want to be part of. It’s the tale of a group of broken people trying to become something more in both greedy and altruistic ways. Add a dash of reality TV and some fame and you have something really interesting. Part superhero mythos, and part struggle for identity, The Heart Does Not Grow Back is just about nothing you’d expect. It’s an intense ride, but oh so worth it.

The more I read, the more I cherish the books that make me uncomfortable. Being uncomfortable isn’t always a bad thing. Sometimes it can be a really good thing. It means the author is evoking strong emotions and reactions in me. It means that the book is real enough to make me think important thoughts. It means that The Heart Does Not Grow Back managed to tug at parts of my humanity that rarely get tugged at. The truth is, the characters reflect a bit of all of us, and sometimes that’s uncomfortable. The ethical questions posed to readers are messy, but when has ethics and morality ever been clean and simple? The relationships are intense, but those intense relationships tend to be the ones that end up being defining points of various parts of our lives.

The Heart Does Not Grow Back works so well because it is an uncomfortable, fantastic, riveting book, and most importantly real. Highly recommended for literary fantasy fans, or anyone interesting in a crossover fiction/fantasy novel.


5/5 stars


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