My published novels are The Shame of What We Are (New Door Books, 2010) and The Big Happiness (P. M. Gordon Associates, 2006, reissued 2015). Clicking on either cover image will take you to the appropriate page on Amazon.
The Shame of What We Are (available in paperback and ebook) traces the life of a nerdy kid from the early 1950s into the 1960s, from age 5 to 17. I call it a “novel in pieces” because it’s deliberately fragmentary, reflecting the protagonist’s experience in a family always on the move from one temporary home to another, from East Coast to West, always seeking the elusive American dream.
Here are the gracious comments of some early readers and reviewers:
Art Dennison (denizen: an inhabitant, a resident) sets out one day on a tricycle and discovers “an open space where a house ought to be, a swatch of dirt and weeds and strange other stuff” where “clumps of grass grew to his chest, dangling brown fluff at the ends.” It’s Camden, NJ, 1951, and Art is about to turn five; nonetheless, he may just have happened upon the wilds—an African tundra minus the menace of hyenas and sharp-toothed lions. He’s hoping so, anyway, and though the missing-row-home adventure ultimately leaves him dirty and scarred, Art, the unconventional hero of Sam Gridley’s superbly well-crafted novel The Shame of What We Are, will spend the rest of his life (or what we readers learn of it, anyway) yearning for things that don’t quite exist, or hoping that what does exist might morph into something far better.
—Beth Kephart, author of A Slant of Sun and The Heart Is Not a Size
With gracious, intelligent prose, Sam Gridley recreates the fragmentary way in which a child learns what it means—to him, arguably to us all—to be a human being. We feel keenly Art’s bewilderment as his circumstance so often overwhelms his understanding; feel the uncertain process through which that balance shifts; and feel too the presence of wisdom woven throughout this ultimately moving, generously constructed book.
—Robin Black, author of If I Loved You, I Would Tell You This
Sam Gridley’s The Shame of What We Are carves out a new place in literature. Not a disparate collection of short stories, nor a tightly wound narrative, The Shame of What We Are threads the emotional arc of its hero, Art Dennison, into a raw, satisfying Bildungsroman. The book follows Art as he grows from a nebulously conscious little boy to the cusp of manhood, exposing the reality of the 1950s American nuclear family. Gridley’s precise command of the elements that shape Art’s life evokes Andre Dubus’s The Times Are Never So Bad in a way that allows the full thematic impact of the writing to infuse the reader. The Shame of What We Are is a wonderful book.
A frequently comic but also heart-rending portrait of the artist as a young man, somewhat reminiscent of John Barth’s Ambrose. It’s a well-crafted depiction of 1950s life in the USA, replete with pop culture and historical references—all viewed through the eyes of a sensitive and intelligent boy as he experiences the travails of growing up in a dysfunctional family and a dysfunctional world.
—Richard Moseley, Fiction Editor of Amarillo Bay
A thoughtful and highly recommended pick, not to be missed.
Read it, you’ll want to take Art Dennison home with
—Sand Pilarski, The Piker Press
The Big Happiness (available in Kindle ebook) features a brain-damaged alcoholic who calls herself Allison Wonderland, along with her eccentric, half-blind lover Leigh Berry, who speaks in his own semi-invented language. A “normal” friend of theirs, Connie Bowers, tries to guide them through their misadventures, while assorted other colorful and wacky types, including a giant imaginary ape, play supporting roles.
The book is kind of about “disabilities,” in all senses of the word; kind of about spirituality; and kind of just crazy.