Shakespeare wrote that love is a many splendored thing, but lesser bards such as Def Leppard and The J. Geils Band said that love biteth and stinketh, respectively. In short, love is the most glorious of gifts but can also lead to syrupy heavy metal ballads played in arenas and greeted with cigarette lighters. Author Rhys Thomas captures this love dichotomy beautifully, and humorously, in “The Secret Life of Sam Holloway.”
Sam has suffered an incredible loss in his past and not in the form of the played-out cliché where he never learned to love because of a difficult upbringing or a betrayal that he cannot allow to heal. Without spoiling “the event,” as Sam refers to it, suffice it to say you would not wish it on your worst enemy, and finding love again, in any form, will take a mountain of trust on Sam’s part. But Sam recognizes that love may be the only path to a future.
“Many years before, when he was fourteen or fifteen, he had fallen head over heels in love with a girl at school. It happened at the end of May, those presummer days when languid sunsets through moist air give a soft focus to the world. Hormones firing in such floods as to be almost overwhelming, he would sit on the riverbank tossing pebbles into the gentle water and think to himself, I will never forget this. This is the most important thing in the world. He saw adults walk the world and they were serious, distracted, tired-looking, and he thought to himself, I must never be like that. I must never forget the importance of true love.”
Sam once knew the importance of true love but he’s become one of those distracted and tired-looking adults until he meets Sarah. But, alas, into every life a little rain must fall and there is the small matter of whether or not to tell Sarah that Sam also spends a few nights each week as the superhero The Phantasm. Before you dismiss this review or this book as nothing more than another Marvel movie in the making, The Phantasm is not an especially capable superhero. It is only in the costume that Sam personally designed that he feels he can escape his suffocating past and perform some good in the world. Of course, being a superhero with a hidden identity is especially difficult in the age of cellphones and social media.
Sam Holloway may aspire to be a superhero but what he is, at the most basic level, is human. And in capturing that humanity, “The Secret Life of Sam Holloway” becomes a tender and memorable book.