Savage may have the least likely success story to tell. He published his first novel, Firmin, in 2006 at the age of 65. It came out on Minneapolis-based small press Coffee House, and it was about a rat who liked to read. The book went on to become a bestseller, and now here he is pushing 70 with his second novel on the shelves.
An epistolary novel set in the ’60s, The Cry of the Sloth takes the reader through four months of Andrew Whittaker’s life, as told in the various, increasingly depressing letters he writes. The book starts out with Whittaker writing from The Whittaker Company, his property-management business that’s as laughable as his romantic life. In a letter to a tenant, he explains that he will not pay in full for the replacement of Sheetrock in the ceiling.
And then in the next letter, he writes his ex-wife, Jolie, to tell her the buildings are ‘so deteriorated, they barely suffice to keep my small raft afloat while it is being tossed about on an ocean of s***, meagre as it is and weighted with the barest of necessities. (I mean to say the raft is meager; the ocean of s*** is, of course, boundless.)’
Success, sense and romance all elude Whittaker as he halfheartedly tries to keep his life together (even his grocery lists, included here, get weird, calling for ‘chicken backs’ and ‘what else’). Savage’s sense of humour is true to his name, but The Cry of the Sloth reminds us of the great Russian satirist Ivan Goncharov, who also saw the tragedy in pretending to be productive.