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The Heart Does Not Grow Back    by Fred Venturini Amazon.com order for
Heart Does Not Grow Back
by Fred Venturini
Order:  USA  Can
Picador, 2014 (2014)
Softcover, e-Book
*   Reviewed by Ricki Marking-Camuto

Fred Venturini's The Heart Does Not Grow Back is one of the most unusual books I have ever read. I would classify it as magical realism, except it has a strong sci-fi element instead of fantasy, so I am not really sure where that puts it on the speculative fiction spectrum. Wherever it falls, this is not a read you soon forget.

Dale Sampson has spent his life being the unspectacular best friend of superstar jock Maxwell 'Mack' Trucker in their small town of Grayson, Illinois. All of that changes when Dale attends his only high school party, thinking the girl he has been crushing on for years, Regina, has something to tell him. When Dale finds Regina, she is being raped by the party's host, Clint.

When Mack tries to stop him, Clint goes berserk, shooting everyone in sight until he kills himself. Dale ends up with a blown-off hand and ear, Mack's shoulder is busted, and Regina is dead. But what really sends Dale's life into a tailspin is when his hand and ear are completely grown back days later. From that point on, all Dale can feel is survivor's guilt.

Years later, his life is going nowhere when he runs into Regina's twin sister, Raeanna, at Walmart. When he discovers that Raeanna is in an abusive relationship, he sees this as a way to make up for Regina's death. In an effort to get Raeanna to leave her husband, he agrees with Mack's plan to become a reality-TV star, becoming a living donor for a variety of patients. His show, The Samaritan, is a hit, but only time will tell if his plan will work.

This was a very uneven story. The first part concerning Dale's teenage years, had some major continuity/timeline issues that made it very hard to follow. When the story jumps four years ahead, it becomes much smoother. However, throughout the whole novel, Dale is not a likeable protagonist. This is not saying he is not a realistic character, because when I was his age ten years ago, I personally knew plenty of guys a few years older than me who acted or inacted much the same way that he does. I also knew a few Macks, too, but Mack was also more likeable and more universal.

Dale's personality seems to fit him into a very small age bracket that does not really fit with the age he is supposed to be in this novel if the setting is current, and there is no indication that it is not. The thing that Venturini did that I really liked was deciding to send Mack to Southern Illinois University Carbondale for college. Most authors either make up a school or choose one of the Ivy Leagues, so Mack going to SIUC made the whole thing see real and plausible.

The Heart Does Not Grow Back is a very odd read. Fred Venturini wrote really good parts, but there are others that make you want to scream. However, I know there are some people out there who can look past the inconsistencies I got hung up on and really connect with Dale.

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