The Book of Samson: A Novel

The Book of Samson: A Novel

by David Maine

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From the author of the acclaimed and provocative novels Fallen and The Preservationist comes a tale about a man who believes he is touched by the hand of God—-and instructed by that God to slaughter his enemies. Told with crackling wit and black humor, this is the story of "this worldly existence of men & brutes desire & unkindness" and of the woman, the deadly and alluring Dalila, who figures at the center of it all. It's a story you think you know, but soon you will leave your preconceived notions at the door. In The Book of Samson, David Maine has created an unforgettable portrait, a unique and astonishing masterpiece that shows the human side of a previously faceless icon.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780312353384
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Publication date: 10/30/2007
Edition description: First Edition
Pages: 240
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.55(d)

About the Author

David Maine was born in 1963 and grew up in Farmington, Connecticut. He attended Oberlin College and the University of Arizona and has worked in the mental-health systems of Massachusetts and Arizona. He has taught English in Morocco and Pakistan, and since 1998 has lived in Lahore, Pakistan, with his wife, novelist Uzma Aslam Khan.

Read an Excerpt

This is the story of my life and it's not a happy one. If you wish to read about me you're welcome to but if you're looking for something to give you hope & joy comfort & inspiration then you had best leave off here straightaway and go find something else. My life has an abundance of frustration and pain plus a fair bit of sex and lots of killing and broken bones but it's got precious little hope & joy comfort & inspiration.

It's got some women in it too plus a wife. Dalila is the one you may have heard of and a rare piece of work she was. You may think you know the story but believe me there's more.

It's an interesting question why anyone would seek hope & joy comfort & inspiration in a story in the first place. Something to think about. Maybe because there's precious little of it in life so we gather up as much as we can find and put it in our stories where we know where it is and it can't get out. But this story as I say isn't like that. It starts and ends with me here in chains and in between if anything it gets worse. Betrayal adultery and murder all figure in words writ large as if in fire against the nighttime sky. With the story not even done yet it might get more hopeless still before my days in this world are over.

In fact I'm sure it will.

To give an idea of the killing: I once left a wedding feast to go kill thirty men and then went back to the wedding which flowed on like wine unabated. This in response to a riddle and a wager. So you see I'm not joking when I say that murder is writ large in my life in words like fire against the nighttime sky. The thirty men's coats I removed from their stiffening bodies and thendistributed to the wedding guests. Though normally prohibited from handling the bodies of the dead I was under some duress and consoled myself with thinking that they were so freshly killed that they were in fact not completely done with living as yet. Thus do we strike little bargains with ourselves and chip away at our integrity in the process.

The wedding where this took place was my own. Perhaps it conveys some idea of the nature of my in-laws that they took these new garments willingly enough and wore them happily afterward notwithstanding the rips bloodstains and other marks of wear.

I said this story begins in chains and so it does for I am in chains as I speak. They are iron and heavy and each link is the size of my hand and the thickness of my wrist. Mighty they are and in my prime they would have not held me but I'm no longer in my prime. As you might have guessed. The place of my enshacklement is a temple wondrously large which I've seen little of besides this sumptuous entertainment hall and the cells underground. In part this is because of the sorry state of my eyesight which is failing by the day. But I've seen enough to know that this hall alone is bigger than some villages I've walked through. At one end of it is a little platform like an altar or a stage and upon this platform I stand. Towering columns ring this hall: the largest being a pair at the far end and a second mighty pair behind me at the rear of the altar. So too is the looming statue of Dagon—the Philistines' so-called god which I will speak more of later. In the middle of the hall an enormous bonfire roars at all hours in a pit. I stand strung up at the edge of the altar with my arms spread in a T shape. My legs are free to wander but alas there's nowhere for them to go. I spend my day shifting from one foot to the other trying to relieve the ache and for the most part failing.

Chains stretch from the shackles on my wrists to bolts driven into the columns. Maybe forty cubits in each direction. The bolts are as thick as a man and the columns couldn't be encircled even by ten men with their arms spread wide—and even these aren't as momentous as the columns at each end of the hall. Truly the palace is built on a scale beyond the understanding of simple men such as myself. I would say it is the work of the gods but that would be a blasphemy most foul as there is only One True God and I know that well. The difference between my people and the Philistines that surround me is that our God is the LORD of Abraham and Moses and Josue while the gods of the heretics are made of wood and they burn or stone and they sink or animal parts and they molder away over time. They are dull lifeless inanimate things. Dagon is the god of this temple and an imaginary creature nothing more. Half man half fish and pure nonsense as even a child could tell you but what can you expect from people who came swarming in their multitudes to Canaan in boats from across the sea?

At times the Philistines even worship the works of the One True God as being gods themselves so they pray to the thunder or the sun or various animals and engage in many other laughable superstitious practices.

I say laughable but admit I'm not laughing now.

This I will attest: that at the moment they have the upper hand but one day the LORD will give me back my hands to hold over them. As He has done so many times before. And when he does so those hands will not be empty but will contain a mighty sword or awesome club or at least a very heavy stone with which to smite them. And so I shall and they will break into small pieces and die. They will die. And I will laugh and dance as will my people. They will sing songs in praise of my deeds. And tell stories.

Those are stories which will have in them no dearth of hope & joy comfort & inspiration. Mark me well.

I fear I am rambling and not sticking to the point. I ask you to forgive me as this is a fault I'm prone to—which you'll see for yourself readily enough if you choose to attend my story for any length of time. The best thing for me to do now is start at the beginning for it is a story unlike any you have heard I have no doubt.

How I Entered the World

The manner of my birth was a sight wondrous to behold if one believes the stories as they are told and I see no reason to doubt them. Involving angels come to earth and signs in the heavens and so forth it must have quite overwhelmed my poor simple parents.

I use the words poor and simple in their poetic sense. My parents were not poor in things of the material world as my father had achieved some status in his native village of Dan and my mother's standing was of a commensurate level. Nor were they either of them simple in any sense of the word. But faced with the glory and grandeur and mystery of the One True God and witnessing the signs His angels made in the sky plain enough for even the blind to see—well how can anyone be but simple and poor when faced with such?

What happened was this. My mother lay back to birth me and out I came heralded at the same moment by a choir of angelic voices and the fiery wings of a bird outstretched across the firmament. Naturally I remember none of this. But I have heard the story so often I feel as though I was a witness to it rather than a participant however unwitting. With the bird's wingspan reaching from horizon to horizon all eyes were naturally fixed upon it not me nor my poor laboring mother either. And when at length the bird hurtled heavenwards to disappear into the Almighty's eternal reaches and the angelic host had roared itself hoarse—that is when my father and my aunts who were tending to my mother remembered to drop their gaze to where she lay sweating and straining against her matting already wet with birth-water and blood and perspiration.

I should mention that my mother was no longer a young woman and I as her firstborn was an unexpected gift in later life. Doubtless she wondered whether such heavenly displays were standard childbearing fare that heretofore she had somehow failed to observe.

As I say: Everyone looked at her and what did they behold? These midwives and attendants and sisters of my mother as well as my father who had sired me? They beheld my mother and then they saw her offspring. A pink-smeared but strangely placid infant sitting upright between my mother's glistening thighs which as anyone will tell you is not normal for a child of only a few moments. What's more I had a thick tangle of black curly hair even as I have now but slick with the fluid of my mother's belly. Most strangely of all perhaps was the fact that I grasped in my hand a stone of not inconsiderable weight. It was well and truly a rock—not just a wad of hard earth or ossified dung but a gray chunk of granite shot through with silver threads of mica and quartz. And with all these people watching me—so the story goes—I sat up and looked right back at them and the silence stretched between us like a length of gut pulled taut till it hums. And then when the silence had stretched as far as it could and the angels were gone and the wings of flame had vanished and my mother's breathing had settled into a rhythm fast and shallow—that's when I held that stone aloft. Held it overhead in one chubby infant's arm.

And crushed it one-handed till the powder sifted gray between my fingers still sticky with the drying grease of my mother's womb.

Seeing this my father raised his hands and said—Verily on this day has the Lord sent unto us a champion. Or words to that effect. This story has been told and retold so many times since the events took place that doubtless my father's utterance has grown more refined over the years. I could be convinced with little trouble—knowing the manner of man he was—that at the time his actual words were more akin to—Heaven save us all from this demon! or even something coarser such as—Fuck me brother! which was all in all his favorite expression of wonder or surprise.

But anyway. Whatever he said or didn't say I can't vouch for. The story was soon enough about that I was the champion sent to deliver the people. My people the Israelites. All that was wanted was the opportunity as well as of course a few quiet years for me to grow up.

Copyright © 2006 by David Maine. All rights reserved.

Reading Group Guide

From the author of the acclaimed and provocative novels Fallen and The Preservationist comes a tale about a man who believes he is touched by the hand of God—-then instructed by that God to slaughter his enemies. It is the story of "this worldly existence of men & brutes desire & unkindness" and of the woman, Dalila, who figures at the center of it all. In The Book of Samson, David Maine has created an unforgettable portrait, a unique and astonishing masterpiece that puts a face on a previously faceless icon.

1. Were you familiar with the Old Testament version of the Samson story (found in the Bible's Book of Judges) before reading this novel? If so, how is this version different? How is it the same?

2. Samson is commonly seen as a hero to Jews and Christians. Does he fit your idea of "hero" in this novel? If not, why not? If so, what qualities of a "hero" does Samson possess?

3. Is Dalila an admirable character, or a dishonorable one? Does she embody both positive and negative elements?

4. Compared to other books by author David Maine (The Preservationist, Fallen), this is the only novel that remains in one single character's point of view throughout. What is gained from this kind of one-sided storytelling? Is anything lost?

5. What purpose does the character of the priest, Meneth, play in the narrative?

6. Why doesn't the author use commas?

7. Samson's voice relies on certain speech quirks, for example when he lists nouns such as "hope & joy comfort & inspiration," or when he repeats phrases: "like words of fire in the nighttime sky." Do these quirks reveal anything about his character, or are they just annoyances?

8. The struggle between Israelites (Israelis) and Philistines (Palestinians) continues to this day. Did this novel cause you to consider that struggle with a new perspective?

9. Samson's final act is to knock down a big building and kill three thousand unbelievers, because he thinks God wants him to. Does this act have any correlation in today's world, and if so, does it suggest anything about the nature of religious faith and certainty?

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The Book of Samson 3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
bdickie on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Interesting retelling of story, a bit darker than his other books.