cover image Samuel Johnson’s Eternal Return

Samuel Johnson’s Eternal Return

Martin Riker. Coffee House (Consortium, dist.), $16.95 trade paper (256p) ISBN 978-1-56689-528-6

Riker’s charming and thoughtful debut opens with the titular Samuel entering young adulthood in a secluded community in Pennsylvania during the 1950s and early ’60s. Against his parents’ wishes, he secretly watches television with a neighbor, whom he falls in love with and eventually marries. They have a son, his wife dies in childbirth, and Samuel’s existence is further rocked when a roaming vagrant tries to kidnap the child when he is 3 years old. During the scuffle, Samuel is killed, and his spirit inexplicably enters the body of his assailant. Now unable to interact from inside this new vessel, Samuel spends decades bouncing from one body to the next, moving on to a new host after his current host dies, inertly looking through the eyes of strangers, all as he attempts to conjure a method to influence his hosts’ actions and make his way home to his son. This shaggy journey shuttles him back and forth across the U.S., as well as oceans, and much like the TV programs Samuel consumes, the bodies he inhabits represent a variety of narrative genres. Riker is a gifted storyteller, and his novel’s enchanting exploration of humanity and philosophy, of how humans connect with their environment and community, is unforgettable. (Oct.)