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Asked by a publisher to write a preface to her late husband’s novel, Edna defiantly sets out to write a separate book “not just about Clarence but also about my life, as one could not pretend to understand Clarence without that.” Simultaneously her neighbor asks her to care for an apartment full of plants and animals. The demands of the living things – a rat, fish, ferns – compete for Edna's attention with long-repressed memories. Day by day pages of seemingly random thoughts fall from her typewriter. Gradually ...

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Asked by a publisher to write a preface to her late husband’s novel, Edna defiantly sets out to write a separate book “not just about Clarence but also about my life, as one could not pretend to understand Clarence without that.” Simultaneously her neighbor asks her to care for an apartment full of plants and animals. The demands of the living things – a rat, fish, ferns – compete for Edna's attention with long-repressed memories. Day by day pages of seemingly random thoughts fall from her typewriter. Gradually taking shape within the mosaic of memory is the story of a remarkable marriage and of a mind pushed to its limits.

Is Edna’s memoir a homage to her late husband or an act of belated revenge? Was she the cultured and hypersensitive victim of a crass and brutally ambitious husband, or was he the caretaker of a neurotic and delusional wife? The reader must decide.

The unforgettable characters in Savage's two hit novels Firmin and The Cry of the Sloth garnered critical acclaim, selling a million copies worldwide. In Edna, once again Sam Savage has created a character marked by contradiction--simultaneously appealing and exasperating, comical and tragic.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

January Magazine, Best of 2011

"[A]n intriguing story . . . Savage's skill is in creating complex first-person characters using nothing but their own voice. . . . Edna's voice, too, is unique and hypnotic, although it is full of evasions and omissions. She tells a difficult story: It is cold and critical, a fading picture in place of memory. Typically, memoir gives us the emotional high points, but Savage's Edna inverts that: She writes loneliness and tedium, the bits and pieces that are hard to look at, or that typically wind up on the cutting room floor."—Carolyn Kellogg, The Los Angeles Times

"[A] dazzling, graceful novel . . . Glass gives us both a life story told well and tantalizingly in unspooled snippets, and a thoughtful rumination on the nature of late-life reflection itself.   . . . Note is usually made of Savage's age upon the publication of his first novel in 2006: He was 65. But the layers of wisdom, the rapier honesty and the sheer intellectual rigor he displays in novels like Glass argue that seasoning may well trump youthful audacity in writing, perhaps the most cerebral of the arts."—Minneapolis Star Tribune

"Readers who don’t know that author Sam Savage (Firmin, The Cry of the Sloth) holds a PhD in philosophy from Yale until after they’ve read Glass will be unsurprised. The book, while a skilled piece of storytelling, reads like a philosophical exploration as much as anything else. . . .  Glass is a fantastic experiment in perspective and an oddly memorable book."—January Magazine, Best of 2011

“Sam Savage creat[es] some of the most original, unforgettable characters in contemporary fiction. . . . Now there’s Edna, the elderly widow in Glass whose ongoing, typewritten argument with her late husband, Clarence, a novelist, covers in painstaking detail the mundane particulars of a life while ultimately uncovering the transcendent power of art. . . . Readers are left with a voice so strong that Savage is able to derive significance from these events by sheer literary force.”—Poets & Writers

"Introspection is at the heart of this new novel from Savage, which effectively defines that jewel of a word, velleity (the lowest level of compulsion to act, a slight impulse to do something). . . . Reading like an intersection between Samuel R. Delany’s The Motion of Light in Water and Marlen Haushofer’s The Wall in its take on the overriding truth of memory and the heroic task of solitude, this is an original and compelling book. Highly recommended."—Library Journal, starred review

“Savage is not interested in the linear unfolding of the events in Edna’s life but rather in the meanings that have accreted to them as she introspectively mulls them over and tries to make sense of things. . . . An engaging study of both the quirks and the depths of personality.”—Kirkus Reviews

"Readers of Savage’s Firmin (2006) and Cry of the Sloth (2009) will come to this one with large expectations, and they won’t be disappointed. . . .  Savage’s decision to use the point of view of an unreliable narrator will capture the attention of readers of literary fiction. The wry, bizarre humor will keep it.”—Booklist

"There is a ruddy and ribald wisdom at work [in Glass].  . . . If you’ve let Sam Savage take you on previous journeys, if you’ve enjoyed those journeys, I wholeheartedly recommend you let him take you on his latest flight of fancy.”—Bookmunch

"Edna is hilarious, poetic, and heartbreaking, all without really trying to be. . . . [T]he glimpses of her past life are so perfectly sculpted and are teeming with gorgeous language, and her humor that cuts them short is so precise and well-played.”—Hazel & Wren

“Sam Savage’s exhilarating, often lilting use of language and his faultless characterization of the eccentric, unraveling of his main character, Edna, is evocative, poetic, and compelling.”—New York Journal of Books

“On a craft level, Glass leaves several strong impressions, at least some of which other fiction writers and students of fiction writing may find instructive. . . . Savage’s skill in sustaining the reader’s attention through 200 pages of apparent stream-of-consciousness may be exemplary. . . . In a novel that essentially lacks a plot, he nonetheless creates one of the most intriguing stories—and one of the most vivid characters—that this reader has encountered this year.”—The Writer

Glass transforms through Edna’s pathology (and Savage’s relentless vision) into a deeply felt exploration of memory, of what it means to outlive the sources of one’s suffering. . . . Here is where the novel shines: through a Beckettian obsession with precision of language, the tension between solipsism and longing becomes primal, and through Edna, Savage creates a world so small that his reader is forced to confront the very stitching that binds together its existence, frail as that is. . . . [Glass] is profound, and readers are ultimately rewarded with a nearly voyeuristic pleasure, watching as this human life unfolds, reluctantly, in all its tragic splendor.”—BookPage

"The sharply drawn characters in Savage’s two previous works, Firmin: Adventures of a Metropolitan Lowlife, which novel’s namesake is a rat, and The Cry of the Sloth received critical acclaim. He’s done it again with the at once appealing and irritating Edna, whose tragedy bites with cartoon fangs.”—Denver Examiner

“Savage devotes much of Edna’s typing . . . to careful examinations of phrases, astute observations and literary references. . . . [Glass is] Sam Savage’s examination of the truth of memory, the effects of self-imposed solitude, and the churning verbal mechanics of writer's mind.”—Shelf Awareness

“One of the many accomplishments in this fine novel . . . is to make a reader come close to understanding the deadening sadness of [Edna’s] life, and potential fate, and, finally, feel sympathy for a character whose ways can be off-putting and obscure.”—Requited Journal

Library Journal
Introspection is at the heart of this new novel from Savage (Firmin: Adventures of a Metropolitan Lowlife), which effectively defines that jewel of a word, velleity (the lowest level of compulsion to act, a slight impulse to do something). Edna lives alone, typing away on a preface to the reissue of her late husband's out-of-print novel. Though she can barely take care of herself, she inherits responsibility for plants, fish, and a rat, which sets the stage for a touching but often hilarious interplay between her interior life and the outside world. Edna's life story is revealed gradually, interwoven with information about her daily experience and the scattered workings of her mind. As we enter into the bright river of her thought, we experience Edna's compulsions to act (or not) and learn about her husband, her fears, and her childhood memories. VERDICT Reading like an intersection between Samuel R. Delany's The Motion of Light in Water and Marlen Haushofer's The Wall in its take on the overriding truth of memory and the heroic task of solitude, this is an original and compelling book. Highly recommended.—Henry Bankhead, Los Gatos P.L., CA
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781566892735
  • Publisher: Coffee House Press
  • Publication date: 9/13/2011
  • Pages: 210
  • Product dimensions: 5.00 (w) x 7.60 (h) x 0.60 (d)

Meet the Author

Sam Savage

Sam Savage is the bestselling author of Firmin: Adventures of a Metropolitan Lowlife and The Cry of the Sloth. A native of South Carolina, Sam Savage holds a PhD in philosophy from Yale University. Savage resides in Madison, Wisconsin.


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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