SAM PATCH: Ballad of a Jumping Man by William Getz

SAM PATCH: Ballad of a Jumping Man

Email this review


A civilized bear and an obsessed stunt man are the unlikely leads of this first novel, a picaresque romp through the American Northeast of the 1820's. It is the bear, Bruin, who relates the story, in the leisurely manner of Fielding or Thackeray. Though ""severely traumatized"" and almost killed by Davy Crockett, Bruin is still attracted to the world of men; this necessitates becoming a performer. He makes a fine start as the resident attraction in a Pittsburgh tavern, guzzling beer. His next experience, as a stage prop for the charlatan phrenologist Meleager, is less happy, but it does lead him to Sam Patch, an obscure figure in American folklore, who has just started his new career: making waterjumps from bridges. Sam jumps not for money or recognition, but to show ""some things can be done as well as others."" It is his vocation, his shtick, his link to the world. Soon Brain is jumping too, out of loyalty to Sam. The only cloud in the sky is Sam's unrequited passion for Handsome Jenny, a classy whore whom Sam tracks to New York City, where he rescues her from a fire (another dramatic jump) and from the Dead Rabbits, a colorfully vicious street gang. Jenny is slowly reconciled to Sam's jumping (Niagara Falls wins her over), and everything seems hunky-dory, when the villainous Meleager, jealous of Sam's fame, kills him by lacing his pre-jump brandy with laudanum. For all its broad canvas and abundant good cheer, this is a flaccid entertainment. Though Sam is explained (indeed, overexplained), Getz never quite gets a fix on him (unlike, say, the economy with which Doctorow impales Houdini in Ragtime). He remains a dull naif, and Jenny a shadowy femme fatale, while Bruin is trapped between his two existences, as urbane philosopher (when addressing the reader) and slobbering mute, unable to warn Sam of Meleager's hostility.

Pub Date: Sept. 15th, 1986
Publisher: Franklin Watts