Samuel Thomas Martin is possessed of the ability to spin a good yarn—and also to plumb the depths. In his novels and short fiction he marries canny and satisfying storytelling with a rich and sympathetic investigation of his characters’ interior worlds, all lovingly and convincingly grounded in the land- and seascapes of his native Canada. His critically acclaimed first novel, A Blessed Snarl, is a family saga worthy of the Old Testament. It explores the unraveling of a man driven to the edge of a continent, back to his childhood home on a spare, demanding island of Newfoundland, where he wrestles with matters of marriage, forgiveness, religious calling, and faithfulness. He wants to live the kind of life his grandparents had; his wife finds their new life in a remote community stifling, and eventually reacts calamitously. It’s to Martin’s credit as a writer that while we find the main character’s ambition sympathetic, even admirable, her response to their isolation feels no less understandable. Martin’s short stories, collected in This Ramshackle Tabernacle, are also populated with men on the verge. His currency is the tension between the past and the future, loyalty and ambition, courage and desperation, art and pragmatism. Over and over, what draws him is the clash of the old world and the modern one—a war played out through technologies, values, manners, and landscapes.
You can read an excerpt from "Running the Whale's Back," part of Samuel's new book A Blessed Snarl, featured in IMAGE issue 72 here.
Samuel Thomas Martin is the author of the story collection This Ramshackle Tabernacle (Breakwater), short-listed for the BMO Winterset Award and long-listed for Canada’s ReLit Award. His first novel, A Blessed Snarl (Breakwater 2012), was listed as one of the “most anticipated books of 2012” by the 49th Shelf and has received great reviews since its publication. His short stories, essays, and reviews have appeared in Image, Riddle Fence, Cuffer Anthology III and IV, Canadian Literature, Comment, Christian Courier, Relief, and Qwerty. He holds an MA in Creative Writing from the University of Toronto, where he worked with award-winning writer David Adams Richards, and a PhD in English Literature from Memorial University of Newfoundland, where he completed a dissertation on “sacramental reading.” From April to June 2012, he served as Fogo Island Arts’ inaugural writer-in-residence at the Bridge Studio in Deep Bay, Fogo Island. And he is currently the Assistant Professor of Creative Writing at Northwestern College in Orange City, Iowa, where he lives with his wife Samantha and their black lab Vader.
Odin’s Eyes, my current novel project, deals with the revival of Harold Whitaker, a character out of the story “Eight-ball,” from This Ramshackle Tabernacle (Breakwater 2010). Harold is a black metal violinist trying to cut ties with his macabre past—a cocaine addiction that led to a second degree murder charge in his early twenties—and to reinvent himself as a new kind of alternative musician. So far the novel explores the clash and melding of different worlds—secular and Catholic, townie and bayman, Newfoundlander and mainlander, black metal and Celtic. The clash of worlds fascinates me. It’s something I began exploring in my last novel, A Blessed Snarl (Breakwater 2012). But in that book I think my focus was on my characters’ inner lives—even though stuff did happen plot-wise, like a neighborhood drunk being beaten within an inch of his life. In Odin’s Eyes, things are much more plot-driven: there is some drug smuggling that goes awry, a whale that is lured into a shallow bay at high tide, and an epic road trip that leads to one character’s personal apocalypse. I think it’s a dark book, like my other two, but this one has more music and more humor, as well as some redemptive light. The characters are making me laugh at any rate! Right now I’m having a lot of fun exploring Norwegian black metal (and other international metal and hardcore scenes). I recently had a two hour conversation with one of my creative writing students about various kinds of American metal on our way back from hearing Sherman Alexie read in Brookings, South Dakota. This guy is in a straight-edge, hardcore band, and we just talked metal, thrash, and southern rock as we drove deeper into Slipknot’s Iowa. I kept telling him I had a character who wanted to steal his stories, and he just kept telling them, spitting sunflower seeds into an empty Gatorade bottle, his face green in the glow of the dashboard lights.