First published back in October of 2012, Jack Ketchum and Lucky McKee’s novella ‘I’m Not Sam’ originally started out as an idea for a short story which they planned to later adapt into a film.  However, as the story grew, they realised it worked well as a novella, but not necessarily as a film.  

With the story written, Ketchum and McKee agreed that it lacked a third ‘closing’ act.  A formulaic structure they knew was needed for of a film.  And so, not wanting to entirely give up on the idea of adapting it for film, Ketchum and McKee decided to write a direct follow-up to the story, which would pick right-up from where ‘I’m Not Sam’ left off.  The end result was the follow-on short story ‘Who’s Lilly?

Published together, the novella is a powerful and emotive read that is perhaps a tad further removed from the all-out horror many of us have come to expect from Ketchum.

DLS Synopsis:
It had been a day like any other.  Thirty-six year old Patrick Burke had been working on his illustrations for the next graphic novel.  Hardly work for him.  More like being paid to play.  His wife, Sam, had similarly spent the day doing what she loved.   For her, being a forensic pathologist was just like solving puzzles.  Human puzzles.

Patrick was happy with his life.  He had a job he loved, their home was in a quiet and tranquil spot which was ideal for him to work in, and after eight years of marriage he still saw his wife as the most amazing and beautiful woman in the world.  He was lucky.  He was happy.  But he knew that they were missing one thing.  A child.  But, with Sam being infertile, he knew it was something that was never meant to be.

But then that night everything changed.  Patrick woke sometime in the night to the sound of crying.  It was Sam.  She was curled up in the corner of the room sobbing.  Patrick tried to comfort her, but she wouldn’t let him go near her.  She wouldn’t let him touch her.  She said he’d hurt her.

And then, when Patrick tried to talk to her, she turns to him and in the innocent voice of a five year old asks “Who’s Sam?”.  A simple question that pretty much floors him.

Over the following days Patrick will witness the extent of the change in his wife.  He will watch as the woman that he adores, the woman he married and has been spent his life with, lives out a new personality.  The woman that was once Sam Burke is now Lily.  And day by day it will tear Patrick apart…

DLS Review:
I think Jack Ketchum could write about pretty much anything and he’d make it a damn compelling read.  The man’s just got a natural knack for telling a story.  He can captivate his audience in a matter of seconds, and keep them mesmerised no matter where he decides to lead them.  So to say that ‘I’m Not Sam’ is a slowburner feels wrong.  From the word go you’re ensnared on Ketchum’s literary hook.  But if you take a second and look at what actually happens over the first half of the novella, you’ll realise that there’s not actually all that much.  What there is though is characterisation.  And it’s in absolute abundance.

You see, the undeniable crux of the story rests with the characters.  Patrick and his wife Sam (or more precisely her five-year-old persona Lily) need to be fleshed out to such a degree that we then believe they exist.  We need to feel for Patrick.  Sympathise with the soul-crushing ordeal he’s facing.  Perhaps even project ourselves into his character just a little.

And by god do Ketchum and McKee achieve just this.  Patrick and Sam/Lily feel convincingly real.  The details, the personalities, their quirks and little traits, all sing of a real living breathing person.  Even within the relative constraints of a novella, the attention to detail is breath-taking.  And the ripped-raw and exposed relationship between Patrick and his regressing wife is one that echoes through us all.

But I know what you’re asking.  Where’s the horror?  Well, it’s there, but it’s in a far more subtle, more emotionally-charged state than perhaps you would expect it to be.  But that doesn’t make it any less haunting.  This is a story that will squirm its way into you, chilling you in a way you more than likely weren’t expecting, and then it flattens you with a final punch to the gut that leaves you desperately gasping for air.

Who’s Lily? – 18 Pages
It’s barely dawn when she wakes knowing something’s wrong.  She can feel where Patrick had been.  Their coupling.  But there’s something else.  Looking in the bathroom mirror, her hair looks different.  Less well-kept.  And her legs aren’t smooth like they should be.  Like they always are.  It’s like life’s just carried on without her.  And it gets worse as she starts looking around the house.  The devastation in the living room.  The children’s toys.  This is really messing with her head.  She needs answers.  She needs to know what’s going on.  But when she confronts Patrick, he simply breaks down in front of her.  But what was that he said at first?  What was that name he called her?  Lily?  Who’s Lily?...

So, as part of his introduction to the novella, Jack Ketchum makes one request of the reader.  That they let a small amount of time pass between reading the end of ‘I’m Not Sam’ and commencing with the follow-on short story ‘Who’s Lily’.  A gap to allow the story to sink in.  For it to leave a mark.  To reverberate.  To allow the impact of the words to resonate just a little while before the story is taken up again, this time from a different perspective – that of Sam.  Well, I did just this (I gave it a good 24hrs) and I have to say that I’m glad I did.  The break allowed the last few words of ‘I’m Not Sam’ to sink in.  To gnaw away at me.  To get me thinking before I started up with the story again.  The result was a magnification of my gut feelings.  Something I very consciously brought to the table as soon as I commenced with ‘Who’s Lily?’.  And to their credit, Ketchum and McKee knew this would happen.  And it just makes this final whirlwind of an awakening so much more poignant.  So much more intense.  So much more engaging on almost every level. Very nicely done guys. Very nice.

The novella runs for a total of 110 pages.

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