Sam Holloway is a good guy, who is kind and thoughtful, with a stable, but not terribly exciting, job with an electronic parts distributor. He meets up with a couple of friends several nights a week at a local pub, where they talk about comics, movies, videogames and what it might be like to meet a nice woman. Yes, Sam is a bit of a geek, but he is also a nice guy, and everyone seems to know that. What no one knows though, is that on nights when Sam isn’t at the pub with his friends, he dons a homemade superhero costume (You can order pretty much anything off of the Internet!), and patrols the streets of his hometown as The Phantasm, attempting to thwart crime and right wrongs. He doesn’t have a great track record. Fighting crime simply isn’t as easy in real life as it appears in the comics, but he continues his patrols because it helps give him a sense of purpose and usefulness that the rest of his life lacks.
And then he meets Sarah. Sarah observes him as he buys a homeless person some food at a local bakery and then sees him again at the pub a few nights later. She approaches him, and they begin to talk. She spontaneously joins him on an outing with his friends and invites him out to meet hers. This is unprecedented in Sam’s experiences. He’s never been terribly social and is even worse when it comes to women and dating. Sarah represents what Sam both fears and desires the most. The question is, whether he is brave enough to risk his comfortable life and existence, for the unknown future that Sarah may represent?
In The Secret Life of Sam Holloway, Rhys Thomas explores how crippling and isolating grief can be, and the lengths to which it will push some people in order to find the solace they need, but can’t always easily find.
Thomas also explores the masks, both literal and figurative, behind which we all hide and the reasons that we do. Sam’s grief, and the event that caused it, are the genesis for desiring such a controlled and ordered existence. It is also the motivation for his donning a superhero costume and prowling the streets at night in search of wrongs that need correcting. Thomas describes these episodes in excruciating, hilarious, and harrowing detail. Sam is repeatedly taunted and abused as he confronts “wrong doers” regarding their actions. While he has few actual successes, these experiences drive him to continue, and take increasingly insane risks, in the hope of saving others since there are people in his past he had no chance of rescuing.
The same is true of Sarah. She also wears a mask, but hers is simply a more conventional and socially acceptable means of hiding her fear and pain. Both characters will need to remove the masks behind which they are hiding and confront directly their fears to find the lives that they desperately want and need.
The Secret Life of Sam Holloway is a gentle, lovely book in the same vein as Gail Honeyman’s Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine. It is about both hiding and allowing oneself to be found. It is also about what it really means to be truly brave, which doesn’t often require donning a mask, but rather being willing to face what we fear most to gain what we desire and need, which in many cases has been there all along, just waiting for us to realize it.
The novel is available on e-Media.