Ron Charles Reviews Allegra Goodman’s ‘Sam’

In Allegra Goodman’s ‘Sam,’ a young rock climber struggles to grow up

Threats gather quickly in this sensitive portrait of life lived along the poverty line in modern-day America

By Ron Charles

In “The Writer,” one of my favorite Richard Wilbur poems, the speaker pauses on the stairs and listens to his daughter working in her room:

Young as she is, the stuff

Of her life is a great cargo, and some of it heavy:

I wish her a lucky passage.

In her new novel, “Sam,” Allegra Goodman offers a similarly sympathetic reflection on the struggles of a girl’s life.

We meet Sam at the start of her voyage when she’s a sweet, energetic 7-year-old living in Massachusetts. Her parents are divorced, but her handsome father, a small-time entertainer, is still “sort of around, sort of not.” Having abandoned his domestic responsibilities, he’s free to drop in unpredictably and dazzle Sam. “He can run faster than anybody,” she thinks. “He plays every instrument and the harmonica. He can read your palm and, also, he knows magic.” Read the full review at the Washington Post.

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