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Sam Gridley

with illustrations by
Tom Jackson

The American 1950s—a simpler, more innocent age? Not for an awkward, nerdy kid like Art Dennison. As Art grows up with a father who can explode at any time and a mother who just doesn’t fit the required role, his life sometimes feels surreal. The “pieces” of this slyly humorous, compassionate novel reflect Art’s fragmentary experience in a family always on the move—from one temporary home to another, from East Coast to West, always seeking the elusive American dream.

Sam Gridley is the author of two other books of fiction, The Bourgeois Anarchist and The Big Happiness. His stories and satire have appeared in more than sixty magazines and anthologies. He has received two fellowships from the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts and a Wallace Stegner Fellowship from Stanford University.

Tom Jackson’s paintings and illustrations are featured at

Fiction, 199 pages
paperback / $12.95 / ISBN 978-0-9788636-4-7
e-book / $9.99 / ISBN 978-0-9788636-6-1


“Art Dennison (denizen: an inhabitant, a resident) sets out one day on a tricycle and discovers ‘an open space where a house ought to be, a swatch of dirt and weeds and strange other stuff’ where ‘clumps of grass grew to his chest, dangling brown fluff at the ends.’ It’s Camden, NJ, 1951, and Art is about to turn five; nonetheless, he may just have happened upon the wilds—an African tundra minus the menace of hyenas and sharp-toothed lions. He’s hoping so, anyway, and though the missing-row-home adventure ultimately leaves him dirty and scarred, Art, the unconventional hero of Sam Gridley’s superbly well-crafted novel The Shame of What We Are, will spend the rest of his life (or what we readers learn of it, anyway) yearning for things that don’t quite exist, or hoping that what does exist might morph into something far better.”

Beth Kephart, author of too many books to list here

“With gracious, intelligent prose, Sam Gridley recreates the fragmentary way in which a child learns what it means—to him, arguably to us all—to be a human being. We feel keenly Art’s bewilderment as his circumstance so often overwhelms his understanding; feel the uncertain process through which that balance shifts; and feel too the presence of wisdom woven throughout this ultimately moving, generously constructed book.”

Robin Black, author of Life Drawing


“Sam Gridley’s The Shame of What We Are carves out a new place in literature. Not a disparate collection of short stories, nor a tightly wound narrative, The Shame of What We Are threads the emotional arc of its hero, Art Dennison, into a raw, satisfying Bildungsroman. The book follows Art as he grows from a nebulously conscious little boy to the cusp of manhood, exposing the reality of the 1950s American nuclear family. Gridley’s precise command of the elements that shape Art’s life evokes Andre Dubus’s The Times Are Never So Bad in a way that allows the full thematic impact of the writing to infuse the reader. The Shame of What We Are is a wonderful book.”

Shawn Kerivan, author of Name the Boy and Iago’s Fool

“A frequently comic but also heart-rending portrait of the artist as a young man, somewhat reminiscent of John Barth’s Ambrose. It’s a well-crafted depiction of 1950s life in the USA, replete with pop culture and historical references—all viewed through the eyes of a sensitive and intelligent boy as he experiences the travails of growing up in a dysfunctional family and a dysfunctional world.”

Richard Moseley, Fiction Editor of Amarillo Bay

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