Sam, the main character of Nick Hornby’s Slam, begins his story by saying his life is “ticking along quite nicely.” His mum has just dumped her “rubbish boyfriend,” one of his teachers has suddenly suggested he study art in college, and he has a new girlfriend, Alicia. Usually Sam’s life is not quite so great. Usually he has more worries.
Sam is an avid skater (skateboarder). He idolizes the professional skater Tony Hawk, whom he nicknames TH. He has pretty much memorized the book Hawk—Occupation: Skateboarding, and he has a huge poster of TH on his wall. Whenever Sam has trouble learning a new trick or needs to discuss a problem in his life, he talks to his poster and listens to TH’s “answer”—usually words from the book, with a little embellishment from Sam added in.
Sam lives with a single mother in a small apartment in London. If he goes to college as his teacher suggests, he will be the first person in his family to earn a higher qualification at the normal time of life, while he is still young. He notes that, in some families, the children do better in life than their parents do:
But in our family, people always slip up on the first step. In fact, most of the time they don’t even find the stairs.
In his mother’s case, the slipup was Sam himself. She gave birth to him when she was only sixteen.
Sam and Alicia meet at a party for her parents, who are much older and wealthier than Sam’s. The two kids start to like each other pretty quickly, and the next night they get together to go to a movie. They sit at a coffee shop, and later they go to Alicia’s house. When it becomes clear that she wants to have sex, Sam balks. He is a virgin, and his mum’s history scares him a little. He also thinks Alicia probably wants to sleep with him just to get back at an ex-boyfriend she has mentioned. Sam says he wants to go home, and Alicia cries. He comforts her, and they end up sleeping together.
For the next several weeks, Sam and Alicia spend all their spare time together. When he is not around her—which is quite often because they do not go to the same school—he daydreams about her. His mum begins to worry, and one day she insists that she and Sam have to spend the next evening together without Alicia. Sam tries to get out of it, but she insists. He spends forty-two hours without Alicia; he says the experience is “like not breathing.” He goes out for pizza and a movie with his mum, and on the way home she asks if he and Alicia are having sex. He refuses to answer.
The next night, Sam and Alicia are “messing about without putting anything on,” and Sam starts to have an orgasm. He puts on a condom and goes on as if everything is normal, hoping that nothing will go wrong. He says:
What’s amazing to me is that you can keep out of trouble pretty much every minute of your life apart from maybe five seconds, and that five seconds can get you into the worst trouble of all.
Soon Sam’s relationship with Alicia loses some enthusiasm. He starts skating and playing the Xbox again, and they do not see each other every day. When they do hang out, they usually just have sex and watch TV. Once Sam goes out to lunch with her whole family, and her parents make him angry by acting rich and snobby. In a conversation about Sam’s future, Alicia’s mum implies that he has no future. Sam begins to think that it is not worth going out with Alicia if he has to let her parents treat him like “some no-hoper crackhead.” He confides to his mum that he wants to break up, but he does not actually do it. He just stops going to Alicia’s house and leaves his phone switched off.
On Sam’s sixteenth birthday, he gets a text from Alicia that says she needs to speak to him urgently. He tries to avoid her, but she insists. He meets her at a coffee shop, and she confesses that her period is three weeks late. They go to a drugstore to look at pregnancy tests, where they realize they do not have enough money to buy one. Sam refuses to go to his house for the money, so Alicia goes to get money herself. Before she gets back, Sam switches off his phone and goes home. He spends the rest of his birthday feeling terrified. He celebrates with his parents, who tell stories about how difficult it was to be teenaged parents. His parents rarely see each other anymore, and they bicker through the festivities. Sam breaks off the ceremonies early and sits in his room talking to TH, who responds with blurbs from his book about his own son. Sam does not find this helpful.
That evening, something strange happens. Sam suddenly wakes up in a room with Alicia and a baby. Alicia says it is Sam’s turn to get up. He has no idea how to change a baby, so he pretends the kid’s diapers are not dirty. He jiggles the baby around until he calms down. Later he wakes up again, hoping to be back home, but he is still at Alicia’s. He goes downstairs and finds Alicia with a baby she calls Roof. Sam learns that he has to go to college in the morning then take care of Roof in the afternoon. He has no idea where he might go to college, so he just walks around for a few hours. He decides that he has somehow been “whizzed” into the future and that TH is most likely responsible. He muddles through the rest of the day, learning how to change a diaper and discovering that his mother is pregnant. The next morning, he wakes up in his own bed in his normal life. He has no idea why he has just seen what he has seen, but he knows two things for sure: Alicia is pregnant, and he does not want the life that is in front of him.
Sam runs away to Hastings, a beach town he once visited with his mother and some friends. He throws his cell phone into the ocean and looks for a job, but it is the off-season and nobody is hiring. He meets a rude old man who offers to pay him for help up and down the stairs at his bed and breakfast. When the man...
(The entire section is 2460 words.)