Savage, Sam 1940-
Savage, Sam 1940-
Born 1940, in SC. Education: Yale University, B.A., Ph.D.; attended the University of Heidelberg.
The Criminal Life of Effie O: An Entertainment (online novel), Papas and Nellie Press (McClellanville, SC), 2003.
Firmin: Adventures of a Metropolitan Lowlife (novel), Coffee House Press (Minneapolis, MN), 2006.
After earning a doctorate in philosophy from Yale University, Sam Savage taught briefly at the university before becoming a full-time writer. After releasing a work of fiction online, he completed his second novel, Firmin: Adventures of a Metropolitan Lowlife, which features an anthropomorphic rat as the title character. Firmin is the unfortunate thirteenth baby born to mother rat, Flo. Since Flo has only twelve nipples to nurse her brood, the weak and sickly Firmin is often pushed aside by his stronger nestmates. To survive, he begins to eat the paper that Flo used to make her nest: pages ripped from books in the basement of Pembroke Books in Boston.
Eating the pages of books—specifically, James Joyce's Finnegan's Wake—has an unexpected effect on Firmin: the rat quickly develops an almost human-like consciousness and self-awareness, along with the ability to read the words in the books that surround him. His tastes grow and mature as he forages further afield, and as his knowledge of his surroundings grows, so does his catalog of things he likes and dislikes. He begins to develop an infatuation with bookstore owner Norman, which lasts until Norman's shocking betrayal: the human puts out a pan of rat poison in one of Firmin's most-frequented spots. Later, Firmin becomes the pet of offbeat science fiction writer Jerry Magoon, who carts the beast around in a wagon from which he sells copies of his writings. Magoon helps Firmin understand many of the intricacies of human experience, including jazz music, film, and the vicissitudes of the writer's life. When Magoon meets an unexpected end, Firmin once again finds himself on his own, fleeing the renovation and gentrification of the Bohemian section of town, Scollay Square, where he was most comfortable and felt most at home. Through it all, Firmin also recognizes the irony of being a rat that can think, and he realizes tragically that his hopes and aspirations will never be fulfilled. Still, a Kirkus Reviews critic observed that "in Savage's debut, a rat's life may be brutish and short, but not necessarily without style."
Library Journal contributor David A. Berona saw the novel as a "cleverly written memoir of the colorful lives and distinct shops of a Boston borough" that suffered from soulless redevelopment. Savage "makes use of anthropomorphism to create an intriguing satire that celebrates an obsessive love of literature," commented Shannon Mullen on the WBUR Boston news station Web site. In a Publishers Weekly article, a reviewer called the novel an "alternately whimsical and earnest paean to the joys of literature," and a story that "embodies writerly self-doubts and yearning in a precocious rat." Booklist critic Carl Hays concluded that with Firmin "Savage crafts a small comic gem about the costs and rewards of literary illusions."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, April 1, 2006, Carl Hays, review of Firmin: Adventures of a Metropolitan Lowlife, p. 29.
Kirkus Reviews, February 15, 2006, review of Firmin, p. 157.
Library Journal, May 1, 2006, David A. Berona, review of Firmin, p. 83.
Publishers Weekly, February 6, 2006, review of Firmin, p. 43.
Coffee House Press Web site,http://www.coffeehousepress.org/ (September 29, 2006), William Baldwin, interview with Sam Savage.
Diagram,http://thediagram.com/ (September 29, 2006), Matt Dube, "On Sam Savage," review of Firmin.
The Old Rat's Hole,http://www.theoldrat.com (September 29, 2006), author's home page.
WBUR Web site,http://www.wbur.org/ (June 9, 2006), Shannon Mullen, "Books: The Rat Who Reads," review of Firmin.