I first stumbled upon the work of Sam Savage while browsing at the local Barnes & Noble on my lunch break. They say that you shouldn’t judge a book by it’s cover, but it was the bold, black typewriter and orange background of The Cry of Sloth that grabbed my attention. Amidst stacks and shelves full of hundreds, nay thousands, of books my hand reached out to grasp this curiously colored and titled tome. A few days later I bounded off to the local library.
The Cry of the Sloth
Editor of the not-well-known literary magazine SOAP and unfortunate landlord to numerous crumbling properties, Andrew Whittaker’s tragic undoing is chronicled through a collection of letters, diary entries, shopping lists, notes to tenants and Whitman-esque letters to editors. Readers become privy to the darkest thoughts and deeds that orchestrate the undoing of a struggling writer. In an attempt to save himself (and his beloved magazine), Whittaker begins plans for a grand literary festival. At the same time, he is tormented by a demanding ex-wife, threatened by a rejected SOAP writer, searched for by the banks, and ridiculed by rival art magazine, The Art News.
This comic tale feels and reads much like John Kennedy Toole’s A Confederacy of Dunces. The pages are filled with off-the-wall and ridiculous situations that work to illustrate the truly tragic nature of the main characters. Savage weaves a beautifully dark, tragically funny narrative that completes itself in a mere 224 pages. Admittedly, I was a little skeptical as to how successful the book’s format would pan out. The epistelary nature of the book makes for an interesting conflict: the reader is left craving for more from the characters that appear in Andy’s letters and notes, yet the author gives enough that the reader is able to paint elaborate pictures of these characters. Questions like “How did Jolie respond to the last letter?” are hinted at in later replies from the narrator. Yet, these letters and snippets of Andy’s writings add a certain intimacy that might have lacked in other formats.
Firmin: Adventures of a Metropolitan Lowlife
Of all the books I have read this year, this volume stands at the top of the list. Firmin: aspiring author, lover of literature, and rat. The runt of among is 12 siblings, Firmin realizes early on that he is different than other rats. More intelligent than some of the most well-read humans, Firmin is condemned to a life of silence and literature within the walls of Boston bookseller, Pembroke Books. Here readers are exposed to the life of a rat who isn’t really a rat and the tragedy that comes from living such an isolated, lonely life. Full of eloquent words and beautiful passages, Firmin has not the voice to share these with the handful of humans he falls in love with.
Beautifully crafted, dark, and sometimes humerous, Savage captures the lonely isolation of the genius – a feeling that we all have no doubt felt at one time or another. Firmin’s tale is endearing, unique, and moving. His habit of wandering into the nearby Rialto theater to watch x-rated movies with the girls he dubs “Lovelies” only serves to emphasize the fact that Firmin, however human he might appear to be, is still a rat by nature.
What strikes me most about Savage’s prose is the sheer amount of eloquence that he conveys while still writing in an easy, conversational manner. His language is not the haughty, hyper-elegant prose that often bogs down the works of Anne Rice, nor is it the crude, every-day language that sometimes makes me cringe while reading Stephen King. Instead, Savage captures the essence of literature in flowing, easy-to-read prose that sends shivers up this sentence-lover’s spine. Both of these books are short, with The Cry of the Sloth at 224 pages and Firmin at 162. Yet, despite the brevity of these works, Savage creates powerfully moving narratives devoid of fluff and terribly charming.