BookBrowse Reviews Firmin by Sam Savage

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Firmin

by Sam Savage

Firmin by Sam Savage X
Firmin by Sam Savage
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    Jan 2009, 176 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Allison Stadd
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A tale for anyone who has ever feasted on a book…and then had to turn the final page

Though bite-size, this first novel by Sam Savage is mouth-wateringly creative, clever, unconventional and entertaining. Firmin the Rat was born in the basement of a bookstore, and from thenceforth constructs his entire schema of the world both around him and within him in terms of literature. His imagination is as wild as the author's, taking Firmin on flights of fancy that encapsulate the reader in a fantasy land that is hard to tear away from. He takes us around the world to cities like Paris, inside the intimate relationships of Hollywood stars such as Ginger Rogers, into the brains of literary greats including F. Scott Fitzgerald, and everywhere in between.

Bibliophiles will love the many references to classic literature, ranging from Shakespeare to Hemingway to Dickens to Byron. But the story, peppered with laugh-out-loud humor and raw emotion, is also great fun for less broadly read readers.  At times, the reader even questions whether or not Firmin is actually a rat, or whether he is a human who, in his constantly churning mind, imagines himself in the guise of a rodent.

The lack of dialogue, the absence of which can sometimes weigh down a novel, completely works in Firmin as the rat conducts an ongoing monologue which provides us with a vivid picture of his life and surroundings. We become experts in the character of Firmin, as well as his companion and caretaker Jerry and the bookshop owner Norman Shine, whom we always see from above, staring down at his bald pate - because this is how Firmin observes the goings-on of the bookshop from his vantage points in the ceiling.

Savage's sketch of the deteriorating Scollay Square in Boston, tying in its historical destruction to make way for modernizing renovation and revamping of the city, anchors us in a realistic time and place. This combination of fantasy and plausibility is what makes the novel so special; the fact that readers can get on board with an animal narrator and trust him, love him and champion his efforts, is a true testament to Savage's gift as a writer. It would seem that Savage also did extensive research on rats' behavior, which makes Firmin's humanization less child-like and more applicable to an adult novel, with its wry undertone of sarcasm and ironic humor.

Firmin is the kind of debut novel that exemplifies an author's raw creativity and passion for the art of writing, as much as the story. All readers will want to take a bite, both figuratively and literally, out of this page-turner.

About the Author

Sam Savage is a native of South Carolina now living in Madison, Wisconsin. He received his bachelor and doctoral degree from Yale University where he taught briefly, and has also worked as a bicycle mechanic, carpenter, commercial fisherman, and letterpress printer.

Firmin was first published by Coffee House Press in 2006 with limited distribution. It is reprinted by Delta, an imprint of Bantam Books, part of Random House.

Reviewed by Allison Stadd

This review is from the January 21, 2009 issue of BookBrowse Recommends. Click here to go to this issue.

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