Tuesday, February 19, 2013

The Cry of the Sloth

The Cry of the Sloth by Sam Savage (2009)

The subtitle to the novel is The Mostly Tragic Story of Andrew Whittaker Being His Collected, Final, and Absolutely Complete Writings. Andrew Whittaker is an aspiring author, literary magazine editor, and landlord. The writings included here are pieces of his (terrible) novel, rejection letters to hopeful contributors to Soap magazine, signs reminding his tenants of such matters as where to leave their trash, letters to those who haven't been paying rent, correspondence with his ex-wife Jolie, as well as other letters to friends and acquaintances regarding his dubious plans for a literary festival. From these writings we glean his loneliness, mental instability, and utter failure in every aspect of his life. He's socially inept, in financial ruin, drinks too much, hoards, and feels completely out of control. It's as though he has no idea how any of this has happened to him, where those piles of boxes came from, why he has no money.

Although it's fascinating to read about the sort of person who would write letters to the newspaper under fake names, or spend an entire day rearranging the contents of boxes in his house, we are so close to his downward spiral it all starts to seem frighteningly possible. It only took his wife leaving him to set him off and before he knew it he was completely falling apart. He can't manage the simplest task, everything he does becoming a comedy of errors. At the doctor's office he tries to pull a single bill out of his pocket with his finger in a splint, gets his hand stuck in the pocket, and ends up flinging out a wad of cash that flutters all over the room. When the papers in his house start piling up he begins taping them together, so that when he tries to pull out one document, the entire tower topples over.

The book's title refers to the sound made by the ai, which Andrew tries to imitate, having apparently no idea how ridiculous this is to everyone around him. "I did it at the post office the other day when the clerk told me I had insufficient postage on my package."

When I read, I use little scraps of paper to mark the pages with passages I want to go back to, lines I may want to quote, passages that are especially funny or clever. As soon as I began reading this book I knew I'd have to try and hold back, but my copy still looks like this.

Clearly it's not helpful when you mark every third page, as it seems I've done here. I may as well reread the whole thing. I suspect someday I will.

The novel's style is clever and witty, the main character completely unlikeable but tragically comic. Or maybe comically tragic? It reminded me of The Hottest Dishes of the Tarter Cuisine, absurd and sad at the same time. Because it's a collection of various short pieces of writing, it's a great book to pick up when you only have short snippets of time to read. You can even open it up and read random passages without context to get a taste of Andrew's life.

Years ago I read Firmin: Adventures of a Metropolitan Lowlife, which is one of my very favorite books. Now you are 2 for 2, Sam Savage! I'm only sorry it took me this long to read another book by this incredibly talented author.

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