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Authors: Sam Savage

Tags: #Rats, #Fantasy Fiction, #Fiction, #Books and Reading, #Fantasy, #General

Firmin

BOOK: Firmin
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Firmin
Sam Savage
Seix Barral (2007)
Rating:
****
Tags:
Rats, Fantasy Fiction, Fiction, Books and Reading, Fantasy, General
From Wikipedia

Firmin: Adventures of a Metropolitan Lowlife (2006) is the second novel by author Sam Savage, about a rat runt in 1960s Boston who learns to read. Read more - Shopping-Enabled Wikipedia on Amazon

In the article:
Plot summary

From Publishers Weekly

Savage's sentimental debut concerns the coming-of-age of a well-read rat in 1960s Boston. In the basement of Pembroke Books, a bookstore on Scollay Square, Firmin is the runt of the litter born to Mama Flo, who makes confetti of
Moby-Dick
and
Don Quixote
for her offspring's cradle. Soon left to fend for himself, Firmin finds that books are his only friends, and he becomes a hopeless romantic, devouring Great Books—sometimes literally. Aware from his frightful reflection that he is no Fred Astaire (his hero), he watches nebbishy bookstore owner Norman Shine from afar and imagines his love is returned until Norman tries to poison him. Thereafter he becomes the pet of a solitary sci-fi writer, Jerry Magoon, a smart slob and drinker who teaches Firmin about jazz, moviegoing and the writer's life. Alas, their world is threatened by extinction with the renovation of Scollay Square, which forces the closing of the bookstore and Firmin's beloved Rialto Theater. With this alternately whimsical and earnest paean to the joys of literature, Savage embodies writerly self-doubts and yearning in a precocious rat: "I have had a hard time facing up to the blank stupidity of an ordinary, unstoried life."
(Apr.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Table of Contents
 
 
 
 
In the end, seeing myself for the first time was not at all like seeing just any old rat. The experience was more personal, and more painful too. While it was easy enough to gaze at the unlovely shapes of Shunt or Peewee, it was horrible to have to look upon my own similar aspect. I realized, of course, that the intensity of this pain was in exact proportion to the enormity of my vanity, but that thought only made things worse. Not just ugly, but vain as well - which only added ridiculous to the pile. There I stood, tilted slightly, in irrefutable detail - short, thick-waisted, hairy, and chinless. Firmin: fur-man. Ridiculous. The chin, or the lack thereof, caused me special pain. It seemed to point - though in fact this nonentity was incapable of anything as bold as pointing - to a gross lack of moral fiber. And I thought the dark bulging eyes gave me a revoltingly froglike air. It was, in short, a shifty, dishonest face, untrustworthy, the face of a really low character. Firmin the vermin.
 
A native of South Carolina, Sam Savage received his bachelor and doctoral degrees in Philosophy from Yale University where he taught briefly. He has worked as a bicycle mechanic, carpenter, commercial fisherman and letterpress printer. This is his first novel.
 
 
 
 
 
 
Firmin
 
 
 
 
SAM SAVAGE
 
 
 
Orion
 
 
A Weidenfeld & Nicolson ebook
 
A PHOENIX PAPERBACK
 
First published in Great Britain in 2008
by Weidenfeld & Nicolson
First published by Coffeehouse Press, Minneapolis,
Minnesota, USA
© 2007 Editorial Seix Banal, Av. Diagonal 662-664,
080304 Barcelona
This paperback edition published in 2008
by Phoenix,
an imprint of Orion Books Ltd,
Orion House, 5 Upper St Martin’s Lane,
London WC2H 9EA
An Hachette Livre UK company
1 3 5 7 9 10 8 6 4 2
 
Copyright © Sam Savage 2006 Illustrations © Michael Mikolowski 2006
 
 
The right of Sam Savage to be identified as the author of
this work has been asserted in accordance with the
Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.
 
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in
 
any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior
 
permission of the copyright owner.
 
A CIP catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library
eISBN : 978 0 2978 5578 1
 
This ebook produced by Jouve, France
To Nora
 
One day Chuang Tzu fell asleep, and while he slept he
dreamed that he was a butterfly, flying happily about.
And this butterfly did not know that it was Chuang
Tzu dreaming. Then he awoke, to all appearances
himself again, but now he did not know whether he
was a man dreaming that he was a butterfly or a
butterfly dreaming he was a man.
 

The Teachings of Chuang Tzu
 
 
Had he kept a pain diary, the only entry would have
been one word: Myself.
 

Philip Roth
 
Chapter 1
 
 
I
had always imagined that my life story, if and when I wrote it, would have a great first line: something lyric like Nabokov’s ‘Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins’; or if I could not do lyric, then something sweeping like Tolstoy’s ‘All happy families are alike, but every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.’ People remember those words even when they have forgotten everything else about the books. When it comes to openers, though, the best in my view has to be the beginning of Ford Madox Ford’s
The Good Soldier
: ‘This is the saddest story I have ever heard.’ I’ve read that one dozens of times and it still knocks my socks off. Ford Madox Ford was a Big One.
 
In all my life struggling to write I have struggled with nothing so manfully - yes, that’s the word,
manfully -
as with openers. It has always seemed to me that if I could just get that bit right all the rest would follow automatically. I thought of that first sentence as a kind of semantic womb stuffed with the busy embryos of unwritten pages, brilliant little nuggets of genius practically panting to be born. From that grand vessel the entire story would, so to speak, ooze forth. What a delusion! Exactly the opposite was true. And it is not as if there weren’t any good ones. Savor this, for example: ‘When the phone rang at 3:00 a.m. Morris Monk knew even before picking up the receiver that the call was from a dame, and he knew something else too: dames meant trouble.’ Or this: ‘Just before being hacked to pieces by Gamel’s sadistic soldiers, Colonel Benchley had a vision of the little whitewashed cottage in Shropshire, and Mrs Benchley in the doorway, and the children.’ Or this: ‘Paris, London, Djibouti, all seemed unreal to him now as he sat amid the ruins of yet another Thanksgiving dinner with his mother and father and that idiot Charles.’ Who can remain unimpressed by sentences like these? They are so pregnant with meaning, so, I dare say, poignant with it that they positively bulge with whole unwritten chapters - unwritten, but there, already there!
 
Alas, in reality they were nothing but bubbles, illusions every one. Each of the wonderful phrases, so full of promise, was like a gift-wrapped box clutched in a small child’s eager hand, a box that holds nothing but gravel and bits of trash, though it rattles oh so enticingly. He thinks it is candy! I thought it was literature. All those sentences - and many, many others as well - proved to be not springboards to the great unwritten novel but insurmountable barriers to it. You see, they were too
good
. I could never live up to them. Some writers can never equal their first novel. I could never equal my first sentence. And look at me now. Look how I have begun this, my final work, my opus: ‘I had always imagined that my life story, if and when ...’ Good God, ‘if and when’! You see the problem. Hopeless. Scratch it.
 
This is the saddest story I have ever heard. It begins, like all true stories, who knows where. Looking for the beginning is like trying to discover the source of a river. You paddle upstream for months under a burning sun, between towering green walls of dripping jungle, soggy maps disintegrating in your hands. You are driven half mad by false hopes, malicious swarms of biting insects, and the tricks of memory, and all you reach at the end - the ultima Thule of the whole ridiculous quest - is a damp spot in the jungle or, in the case of a story, some perfectly meaningless word or gesture. And yet, at some more or less arbitrary place along the way between the damp spot and the sea the cartographer inserts the point of his compass, and there the Amazon begins.
 
It is the same with me, cartographer of the soul, when I look for the beginning of my life story. I close my eyes and stab. I open them and discover a fluttering instant impaled on my compass point: 3:17 p.m. on the thirtieth of April, 1961. I scrunch up my eyes and bring it into focus. Moment, moment on a pin, where’s the fellow with no chin? And there I am - or, rather, there I was - peering cautiously out over the edge of a balcony, just the tip of my nose and one eye. That balcony was a good spot for a looker, a sly peerer like me. From it I could survey the whole shop floor and yet not be seen by any of the people below. That day the store was crowded, more customers than usual for a weekday, and their murmurs floated pleasantly up. It was a beautiful spring afternoon, and some of these people had probably been out for a stroll, thinking about this and that, when their inattention was diverted by a large hand-painted sign in the store window: 30% OFF ALL PURCHASES OVER $20. But I wouldn’t really know about that, I mean about what might have attracted them into the store, since I have had no actual experience with the exchange value of money. And indeed the balcony, the store, the customers, even the spring, require explanations, digressions that, however necessary, would wreck the pace of my narrative, which I like to think of as headlong. I have obviously gone too far - in my enthusiasm to get the whole thing going I have overshot the mark. We may never know where a story begins, but we sometimes can tell where it
cannot
begin, where the stream is already in full flood.
 
I close my eyes and stab again. I unfold the fluttering instant and pin its wings to the desk: 1:42 a.m., November 9, 1960. It was cold and damp in Boston’s Scollay Square, and poor ignorant Flo - whom I would know shortly as Mama - had taken refuge in the basement of a shop on Cornhill. In her great fright she had somehow contrived to squeeze herself into the far end of a very narrow slot between a large metal cylinder and the concrete wall of the cellar, and she crouched there shaking with fear and cold. She could hear from up on the street level the shouts and laughter drifting away across the Square. They had almost had her that time - five men in sailor suits, stamping and kicking and shouting like crazy people. She had been zigzagging this way and that - fool them as to your intention, hope they crash into each other - when a polished black shoe caught her a blow to the ribs that sent her flying across the sidewalk.
 
So how did she escape?
 
The way we always escape. By a miracle: the darkness, the rain, a crack in a doorway, a misstep by a pursuer.
Pursuit and Escape in America’s Oldest Cities
. In the scramble of her panic she had managed to get all the way around behind the curved metal thing, so that only a faint glow reached her from the lighted basement, and there she crouched a long time without moving. She closed her eyes against the pain in her side and focused her mind instead on the delicious warmth of the cellar that was rising slowly through her body like a tide. The metal thing was deliciously warm. Its enameled smoothness felt soft, and she pressed her trembling body up against it. Perhaps she slept. Yes, I am sure of it, she slept, and she woke refreshed.
BOOK: Firmin
5.94Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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