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The Cry of the Sloth

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Fiction. Chosen by Publishers Weekly as one of the Best Books of 2009. Living on a diet of fried Spam, vodka, sardines, cupcakes, and Southern Comfort, Andrew Whittaker is slowly being sucked into the morass of middle age. A negligent landlord, small-time literary journal editor, and aspiring novelist, he is—quite literally—authoring his own downfall. From his letters, diary entries, and fragments of fiction, to grocery lists and posted signs, this novel is a collection of everything Whittaker commits to paper ...

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The Cry of the Sloth

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Overview

Fiction. Chosen by Publishers Weekly as one of the Best Books of 2009. Living on a diet of fried Spam, vodka, sardines, cupcakes, and Southern Comfort, Andrew Whittaker is slowly being sucked into the morass of middle age. A negligent landlord, small-time literary journal editor, and aspiring novelist, he is—quite literally—authoring his own downfall. From his letters, diary entries, and fragments of fiction, to grocery lists and posted signs, this novel is a collection of everything Whittaker commits to paper over the course of four critical months. Beginning in July, during the economic hardships of the Nixon era, we witness our hero hounded by tenants and creditors, harassed by a loathsome local arts group, and tormented by his ex-wife. In this tragicomic portrait of a literary life, Sam Savage proves that all the evidence is in the writing, that all the world is, indeed, a stage, and that escape from the mind's prison requires a command performance.

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Editorial Reviews

Joseph Salvatore
Savage's satire is in many places spot on and funny in a way that will make other writers squirm.
—The New York Times
Publishers Weekly

Middle-aged underachiever Andy Whittaker plots a preposterous literary festival in this scathingly funny epistolary pastiche from Firmin author Savage. Andy is the editor of Soap, an inconsequential literary magazine ridiculed by rival The Art News, which Andy dismisses as "the in-house journal for a tiny clique of very conventional, very middle-class writers and painters." His wife, Jolie, has left him, his mother is dying and the apartment buildings inherited from his father are crumbling. Fern Moss, a precocious poetess, taunts Andy with provocative poems and photos, while Dahlberg Stint, a hardware store employee and former Soap contributor, sends increasingly sinister threats. After his phone is shut off, a beleaguered Andy hunkers down to compose plaintive letters to Jolie, excuses for not visiting his mother, dismissive replies to Soap hopefuls, snide notes to his tenants, pitiful missives to a former one-night-stand, fake letters to the editor and "prose poems, little existential parables of tedium and despair, set in Africa probably." Andy's self-aggrandizing and self-pitying grow more desperate as Savage expertly skewers Andy's comically insufferable exterior to reveal the tragic if insubstantial soul of a frustrated writer. (Sept.)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Library Journal
At an age when many authors are pushing stylistic walkers, 68-year-old Savage is just hitting his stride. His new work is every bit as engaging and original as his debut, Firmin. Protagonist Andrew Whittaker, like the rat Firmin, is something of a literary lowlife. He's a writer who is a legend in his own mind, the vexing editor of a marginal literary journal, an incompetent slumlord, an increasingly tired and tiresome bore and boor, a man about to crash from his own imaginary space into a very unforgiving earth. This novel consists of everything he has written over four months: mostly letters but also remnants of his tortuous prose, shopping lists, and diary entries. VERDICT Set in the early Seventies, this book will certainly appeal to boomers and seniors, but it would also be a great read for young adults. Its best audience would be other writers and creative individuals generally, and it would be a delightful reading-group choice. Great for holiday gift-giving, too.—Jim Dwyer, California State Univ. Lib., Chico
Kirkus Reviews
Four months in the life of a desperate, depressed and sexually frustrated landlord. Andrew Whittaker blames "low-quality tenants" for the disrepair of his buildings in the Midwestern town of Rapid Falls. He has a somewhat better relationship with estranged wife Jolie, even though she left him to pursue an (unsuccessful) acting career in New York City. Letters to Jolie and a variety of significant others chronicle the declining fortunes of Andy's real-estate holdings and of Soap: A Journal of the Arts, the literary publication he founded and edits. Savage (Firmin: Adventures of a Metropolitan Lowlife, 2006) intersperses as well grocery lists, rental ads ("BIG AND COZY!"), rejection form letters and fragments of what Andy describes as "an odd little something which I suppose we'll have to call a novel," whose protagonist is plainly his alter ego. Correspondence also documents sexual behavior that might seem inappropriate and/or despicable, but mostly comes across pathetic. Andy attempts to change his luck by planning a literary festival that sounds more like a circus or carnival: Its slogan is, "Far Out is Fun"; attractions include elephants and bumper cars. "I thought we could give the cars the names of literary fashions-Romanticism, Realism, etc.-and a person could choose his affiliation and crash it into the others," he says to an aspiring poet he's hoping to seduce, despite the fact that she's a schoolgirl. Andy attempts to convince former friends who have become successful writers to participate in the festival without recompense, but the only result from such missives is that one of them starts seeing Jolie. His solipsistic ravings barely acknowledge the Nixon presidency during whichthese letters are written. Indomitable human spirit, or a master of self-delusion? Either way, Andy is a triumphant achievement, squirm-inducingly credible and the palpitating heart of this very funny, very dark novel.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781566892315
  • Publisher: Coffee House Press
  • Publication date: 9/1/2009
  • Pages: 224
  • Sales rank: 979,411
  • Product dimensions: 5.04 (w) x 7.82 (h) x 0.69 (d)

Meet the Author

Sam Savage

Sam Savage is the author of the bestseller Firmin: Adventures of a Metropolitan Lowlife, an American Library Association Notable Book and Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers Award finalist. A native of South Carolina, Savage holds a PhD in philosophy from Yale University, was once an editor of a literary quarterly, and now lives in Madison, Wisconsin.

Biography

Sam Savage grew up in a small town in South Carolina in the '40s and '50s. Then he went north, first to Boston and New York, and later to France and Germany. He studied at the University of Heidelberg and at Yale, eventually acquiring a Ph.D. in philosophy from Yale. He taught there, briefly and unhappily. It was a period when many had become convinced that there are no genuine philosophic problems, only genuine linguistic puzzles. This discovery did not leave any "career options" for Savage, since the only puzzle that interested him at that time was himself. In 1980 he went back south, to McClellanville, South Carolina (pop. 400), where he spent the next twenty-three years. He worked as a carpenter, a commercial fisherman, and a letterpress printer. He lived, however, mainly on a diminishing pile of inherited money and the labors of his wife, while he attempted to write, pretended to write, and often really did write. Most of the things he wrote have not survived. In 2003, he moved north again, this time to Madison, Wisconsin, where he now lives.

Savage has proved to be the most persistant and annoying of the Old Rat's fictions.

Biography courtesy of the author's official web site.

Good To Know

Some fun and fascinating outtakes from our interview with Savage:

"Two years before starting Firmin, I wrote a long story in a ragged verse form I like to call high doggerel. I persuaded my sister, the artist Virginia Beverley, to illustrate it, and we posted the whole thing on the web as The Criminal Life of Effie O. It is now available as a paperback book. Effie O was the first thing I wrote after I had learned not to give a damn. I wrote it for my sister, to whom I would read chapters over the phone as I finished them, and my wife, Nora, who I knew would like it, and for the joy of it."

"As for the inspiration for my writing, I don't plan a novel, don't start off with an idea or plot, such as 'a story about a literate rat in a Boston bookstore.' When I began writing Firmin I didn't even know Firmin was a rat, I didn't know he was in Boston, I didn't know it was a novel. If I am not working on a story, I sit at the typewriter (or now the computer) and just type without any leading idea, the writing equivalent I suppose of an aimless walk. Most of the time nothing comes of it, but not always. I rewrite a paragraph several times before I go on to next one. I try not to think about where it's all going, out of fear that of forcing the story in a preconceived direction rather than letting the direction emerge from the writing."

"As for jobs, I have probably had a greater variety than most people, but I have spent much more time sitting in armchairs doing what some have described unkindly as 'staring into space.' The riches this activity (and it was an activity) brought in, however, have not been convertible to cash. Among jobs I got paid for doing my favorite was working a crab boat along the coast of South Carolina, where I had returned after leaving the university. For six or seven hours a day I was alone in a boat in the marsh creeks, often not seeing another human from the time I left the dock to the time I returned. When I shut off the engine to cull my catch, the only sounds were birds, wind, and water. I thought, and still think, I was in those moments the luckiest person on earth."

"These days my pleasures are small and local. I walk by the lakes. I watch movies on video. I go out once or twice a week for lunch in some little restaurant. I read. My dislikes are large and universal. I have an aversion to jargon. Especially academic jargon. I dream that one morning all the cars in the city will fail to start. I anguish over war and famine. I read the news obsessively. I fume. I think I rant."

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    1. Hometown:
      Madison, Wisconsin
    1. Date of Birth:
      November 9, 1940
    2. Place of Birth:
      Camden, South Carolina
    1. Education:
      B.A. in Philosophy, Yale, 1968; University of Heidelberg (2 years), Ph.D. in Philosophy, Yale, 1979
    2. Website:

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