At first, this seems like a pretty short—105 pages—and innocuous read, especially from author Ketchum. After all, the spring in this Jack-in-the-Box is quite simple: Patrick Burke, our 1st-person protagonist wakes up after a night of sex tighter'n a “two-man band”(Cemetery Dance, ISBN 9781587673535, c.2012, p.36) with his wife of eight years to find she has somehow regressed mentally to a five-year old child. Physically, she's still 38-years old and the most stunning mortician working at the local coroner's office. Then suddenly, she's huddled in the corner of the bedroom naked and crying that he's hurt her down there and Patrick abruptly knows
The rest of the novel reads like a procedural for sane and reasonable actions when you find that the love of your life is now a pre-school child who calls herself Lily. They go to their GP, get an MRI, and toss acronyms around like MPS. Patrick calls his Dad for advice or comfort but hears about his Mom's Alzheimer's. Meanwhile, Patrick keeps her calm with dolls, toys, cartoons, etc. until he can find a cure, or at least an answer.
But don't let these banalities go by without scrutiny. There's clues, allusions, symbols all over the place, and this is the only avenue where answers are possible. Like, for instance, what's up with the cat? The opening sequence features Patrick and Sam waking up—or should I say foreshadowing—to Zoey's yowling over an old, coveted cat toy that Patrick has to keep hidden from her. He remarks about the “yearning in this sound she makes” as a step into “enigma”(p.17). And, don't forget, Sam slices up dead bodies for a living and Patrick “slashes away”(p.82) at drawing splatter-gore comic books as something worthwhile doing. In their house, grody crime scene photos are as common as People Magazine. Or, how come Lily can sing along with all the Oldies, but not remember anything about her personal past? Then there's the water moccasin attack. Can that be squeezed for symbolism, ya think?
This is a tantalizing, mesmerizing story that foregoes most horror tropes for something deeper and far more unsettling. Most modern cinema is similar to typical horror literature in that it handles its violence and terror upfront and in your face; shaking you with loud smashings, flinging blood and bone and cusswords, going by at a pace so fast it's hardly felt and remembered only as exciting and stimulating visuals. But when it slows down as if for inspection, visceral impact details all the brutally-flinching violations. Compare Django Unleashed and Killing Them Softly to see where I'm going with this. Similarly, I'm Not Sam maintains the mundane veneer of everyday life while a mystery plot ticks toward explosion. When you really get it, the book is down and the horror hits solely in your head with wretched reprehensiblity. That's the Big Bang really coming on, and its intensity is exclusively at your disposal.
BTW, as per the authors' instructions, DO NOT read the short story at the end of this volume titled Who's Lily? until you understand what I'm saying here. I'm Not Sam is quite an uncommon reading experience.