The Way of the Dog


"Sam Savage [creates] some of the most original, unforgettable characters in contemporary fiction. . . . Readers are left with a voice so strong that Savage is able to derive significance from these events by sheer literary force."—Kevin Larimer, Poets & Writers

"Savage's skill is in creating complex first-person characters using nothing but their own voice."—Carolyn Kellogg, Los Angeles Times

"[Savage] ...

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The Way of the Dog

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"Sam Savage [creates] some of the most original, unforgettable characters in contemporary fiction. . . . Readers are left with a voice so strong that Savage is able to derive significance from these events by sheer literary force."—Kevin Larimer, Poets & Writers

"Savage's skill is in creating complex first-person characters using nothing but their own voice."—Carolyn Kellogg, Los Angeles Times

"[Savage] creates one of the most intriguing stories—and one of the most vivid characters—that this reader has encountered this year."—The Writer

Sam Savage's most intimate, tender novel yet follows Harold Nivenson, a decrepit, aging man who was once a painter and arts patron. The death of Peter Meinenger, his friend turned romantic and intellectual rival, prompts him to ruminate on his own career as a minor artist and collector and make sense of a lifetime of gnawing doubt.

Over time, his bitterness toward his family, his gentrifying neighborhood, and the decline of intelligent artistic discourse gives way to a kind of peace within himself, as he emerges from the shadow of the past and finds a reason to live, every day, in "the now."

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

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
This compact, ruminative novel-of-the-artist by Savage (Firmin) concerns a broken-down American elderly “minor” painter, frustrated author of two pamphlets, and frivolous art patron and collector. The gimp with a cane, Harold Nivenson, owns a three-story “historic” mansion in a “quiet neighborhood” that he purchased with his inheritance. He mourns the loss of his small dog, Roy, and now sleeps much of the day. From his front window vantage point, he laments the gentrification he observes and often contemplates suicide, meditating on the ends of notable, self-destructive artists. While an art patron 25 years ago, Harold befriended and supported Peter Meininger, a German ex-pat painter who abandoned his family. The two were competitive before Peter moved to Los Angeles—with Harold’s wife—where he thrived as a commercial artist. Harold was left with Peter’s enormous painting of a female nude which, though valuable, Harold hated. Harold’s caretakers—his “obese” live-in housekeeper, Moll, and his tax attorney son Alfie—urge him to sell his art collection, appraised at an “astronomical sum.” Given the burden of his busted dreams, physical ailments, and bitter disillusionment, Harold has to decide whether his life is worth continuing to endure in Savage’s elegiac, articulate tale. (Feb.)
From the Publisher
"Stream-of-consciousness fiction with a satisfying emotional weight: another intriguing experiment in narrative voice from Savage."—Kirkus Reviews

"[S]am Savage . . . Gave us a reworked excerpt of his fourth novel . . . If I’d had the novel three months earlier, I would have offered to make a special issue, or to run it as a serial."—Lorin Stein, Interview in The Rumpus

"[An] elegiac, articulate tale."—Publishers Weekly

"With paragraphs as rich as koans, this is as powerful a meditation on living life—and facing its end—as you are likely to read anytime soon."—Booklist, starred review

"The Way of the Dog is perhaps [Savage's] best novel yet . . . It's as if Savage has rolled Bukowski's Henry Chinaski, Ellison's Invisible Man and Dostoevsky's Underground Man into a more forgiving modern observer."—Shelf Awareness

"Savage is going strong, and The Way of the Dog may be his best book yet."—Shelf Awareness for Readers

"Savage . . . has created something of a late-life oeuvre examining the interior world of the end years of life . . . and once again we are treated to this writer’s uniquely unflinching, painful yet beautiful examination of an aging, regretful intellectual and how a life story rarely has a logical ending that makes the beginning and middle parts make sense.”—The Star Tribune

The Way of the Dog is a deeply felt meditation on the ability to find peace as we age and how our existential dread can be turned into something sublime and meaningful.”—Kansas City Star

“Savage’s writing is full of wickedly off-beat humor while disquietingly delivering spot-on characters who represent the ails of America (and American fiction).”—Hot Metal Bridge

The Way of the Dog is Savage’s most elegiac, tender novel to date . . . For this besieged but genuine artist and writer, grace arrives as a second chance to appreciate, in what time he has left, the fact that life—and art—is never about getting everything right."—Atlanta Journal-Constitution

“Savage manages to get his readers emotionally invested and questions the idea of ‘progression’ in the arts, yet he also highlights the importance of art and the inner peace it can bring.”—The Badger Herald (Madison, WI)

“Sam Savage has crafted a rich and thought-provoking small masterpiece.”—Shelf Unbound

"[T]he startling clarity and unrestrained candor of Nivenson's remarks yield a deeply registering performance . . . The Way of the Dog may not be Savage's most charming book, but it is his most compelling."—On the Seawall

The Way of the Dog is poetic in nature, both for its lovely prose, but also for the stance: searching looks at the things closest to us."—January Magazine

The Way of the Dog is a story about a man finding peace without the restrictions of an identity defined by profession; without the ways that childhood traumas shape identity; without whatever he ‘does’ or ‘did’ or has not done as an artist, major or minor—all while the world grows younger around him.”—BOMBlog

"When you put down this book, you’ll want to think about it. . . . It will soon become apparent that you are now a part of Savage’s world, which is the great triumph of any piece of literature."—NewPages

“In this expressive and finely written novel, perhaps Sam Savage is indicating that a frail pact can be made by two adults to continue on living, and if it includes care and love, it will keep people alive, not in a blissful peace, but in a cessation, however short, from illness and painful memories.”—The Winnipeg Review

“In elegant, lively prose, [Savage] gives voice to the voiceless . . . and the marginalized.”—ForeWord

"Savage's novels are tragicomic, funny, outrageous, unlikely, fantastic . . . and eminently readable."&#8212WOSU Columbus Public Radio

Kirkus Reviews
An aging, embittered art collector looks back on a life defined by his brief friendship with a successful painter. Sardonic humor leavens what would otherwise seem like a solipsistic reckoning of Harold Nivenson's injuries, beginning with mean siblings and culminating with the death of his dog, Roy, some vague amount of time earlier. Harold lives in a decaying house in an urban area that has morphed from "a district of aging working-class white people drinking cheap beer on collapsing porches...[into] a neighborhood of middle-class breeders." He thinks of himself as alone and friendless, though a woman named Moll (whose relationship to him is initially unclear) has moved in to care for him, and the son he calls Alfie (not his real name) pays frequent visits. Harold is unwilling to acknowledge any attachment save Roy's; the routines of owning a dog gave his shattered life meaning, and he imagines Roy sharing the canine wisdom that "[e]very day is all there is." By contrast, Harold believes Alfie has come only to get his art collection appraised, and his bitter memories of Peter Meininger--creator of the sole valuable painting, according to the appraiser--characterize the artist as a user who took refuge in Harold's house, worked there and slept with Harold's wife, then decamped, leaving Nude in Deck Chair as an insulting reminder of the wife's infidelity. Harold is at first an alienating narrator, as he snipes at everyone from his neighbors to his relatives, but we gradually see that he has never been as detached from the world as he pretends and that he is in fact hungry for human contact. Though he decries even the stark basic scenario of "man is born, suffers, and dies" as "too much of a story," Harold comes to accept love--maybe even to think about giving it in return. Stream-of-consciousness fiction with a satisfying emotional weight: another intriguing experiment in narrative voice from Savage (Glass, 2011, etc.).
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781566893121
  • Publisher: Coffee House Press
  • Publication date: 1/8/2013
  • Pages: 152
  • Sales rank: 833,766
  • Product dimensions: 4.90 (w) x 7.70 (h) x 0.50 (d)

Meet the Author

Sam Savage

Sam Savage is the bestselling author of Firmin: Adventures of a Metropolitan Lowlife, The Cry of the Sloth, and Glass. 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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