I'm Not Sam by Jack Ketchum and Lucky McKee science fiction book reviewsfantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsI’m Not Sam by Jack Ketchum & Lucky McKee

Patrick is passionately in love with his wife, Sam, and she with him. Their life together sounds as close to ideal as it’s possible to get. He’s a cartoonist who works from their home, while she works as forensic pathologist. He cooks. She’s gorgeous. It’s a match made in heaven. On a typical evening, Sam returns from work a bit too fragrant from working on the corpse of a turkey farmer who had a heart attack just before spreading turkey droppings in his field. So she hops into the shower (having already taken one at work, but one isn’t enough for this sort of smell), and Patrick offers to wash her hair. And then he offers to wash everything else. That goes much as one would expect; the sex isn’t just good, it’s great.

But this Bram Stoker Award-nominated novella is about to turn very dark. For when Sam awakens the next morning, she isn’t Sam. She insists she’s Lily, and behaves like a five or six-year-old girl. Patrick has no idea what to do. He takes her to the doctor, and eventually for a brain scan, and she checks out as physically healthy. But Patrick is reluctant to follow through on the doctor’s referral to a psychological therapist, hoping to bring her to herself through his own efforts.

Patrick doesn’t fully appreciate how difficult this will be. The body from whom that young girl’s voice and thoughts are issuing is the body of his beloved wife. The artlessness of a typical child makes it difficult for him to control his sexual impulses; Lily wants him to wash her hair, or to fasten the back of her bathing suit, or even to sleep in his bed when she’s frightened. But he manages. He buys a house full of toys, fixes the unused swingset in the yard, and watches over her when she swims in the river. He even teaches her how to properly pet their old, arthritic cat so that the cat isn’t hurt.

It’s a strange situation, and Patrick’s refusal to take Sam to a therapist is even stranger. It’s not clear what he expects will happen, though he keeps trying to jog her memory. One day, Lily discovers Sam’s clothes and wants to play dress-up. Patrick notices that she chooses Sam’s favorites, and decides to make another attempt to bring her back to herself. What follows from that decision is like a kick to the stomach.

The authors ask that the reader stop there, at the end of the first part of this novella, for at least a few minutes, a few hours, even a few days. Read on to “Who’s Lily?” if you must, they say — your questions might be answered there, but they might not. It’s an odd request to make, perhaps even a little hokey; I did as the authors requested and let half an hour expire before I went on to read the second section, but noted no real difference in my appreciation of the tale as a result. It’s still a shocking take, and there are still no clear-cut rights and wrongs here, no complete solutions. The lingering uncertainty regardless of the passage of time is what makes this story so horrific.


  • Terry Weyna

    TERRY WEYNA, on our staff since December 2010, would rather be reading than doing almost anything else. She reads all day long as an insurance coverage attorney, and in all her spare time as a reviewer, critic and writer. Terry lives in Northern California with her husband, professor emeritus and writer Fred White, two rambunctious cats, and an enormous library.