Tuesday, June 30, 2009
I had always imagined that my life story...would have a great first line: something 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.'... When it comes to openers, though, the best in my view has to be the first line of Ford Madox Ford's The Good Soldier: 'This is the saddest story I have ever heard.'
So begins the remarkable tale of Firmin the rat. Born in a bookstore in a blighted 1960's Boston neighborhood, Firmin miraculously learns how to read by digesting his nest of books. Alienated from his family and unable to communicate with the humans he loves, Firmin quickly realizes that a literate rat is a lonely rat.
Following a harrowing misunderstanding with his hero, the bookseller, Firmin begins to risk the dangers of Scollay Square, finding solace in the Lovelies of the burlesque cinema. Finally adopted by a down-on-his-luck science fiction writer, the tide begins to turn, but soon they both face homelessness when the wrecking ball of urban renewal arrives.
In a series of misadventures, Firmin is ultimately led deep into his own imaginative soul-a place where Ginger Rogers can hold him tight and tattered books, storied neighborhoods, and down-and-out rats can find people who adore them.
A native of South Carolina, Sam Savage now lives in Madison, Wisconsin. This is his first novel.
Joanne came up with a toughie this time: “This looks awesome, is it? How do you feel about authors who use anthropomorphism to tell a story? Did you ever feel like you were reading about a human rather than a rat? Is there any underlying messages about society?”
First, I love the design of this book. Even Hamburger noticed, and that’s saying a lot. Well, he noticed that the book seemed to have a chunk missing. It’s made to look like a rat nibbled on it. Second, I have no problem with anthropomorphism in literature. Anyone read The Roaches Have No King? Until it was dethroned by Geek Love, it was the weirdest book I’ve ever read. In that one, the cockroaches ate the glue used to bind books and absorbed some of the story. So I’m afraid Firmin has been done, to a certain extent. Yes, the stories are different, but both rats and cockroaches are a tricky subject to humanize. And, to some extent, both stories are commentaries are human nature.
I’m sidetracking, as usual. I loved Firmin the character, and it was hard to remember he was a rat. I kept visualizing him as a cute little mouse, but then he would remind me of his hideousness (this happens a lot) and it would be a bit jarring to remember I was reading about a rat. I don’t think I ever felt I was reading about a human, but I definitely envisioned him as a charming, erudite rodent who I could have a conversation with, if we ever met. (Hey, I still watch Sesame Street on occasion, so this is not a big stretch for me. And let’s not forget Bubba.)
And now for the tough part…underlying messages about society. Be more understanding and tolerant, maybe. Look under the surface. That’s me projecting onto Firmin, though. I think the tragedy of urban development is an underlying message. Granted, Scollay Square, which actually existed, was a run-down, has-been part of town. But if you look at the pictures of what it turned into? Ewwwwwww. So there’s an example of the government invoking eminent domain (I might be mixing up my terms there) and ignoring the character and people of a neighborhood. Is modern always better? Firmin also illustrates different aspects of human nature. The two main human characters, the bookstore owner and the writer, are very different, especially when it comes to the images they project versus their true natures. So yeah, now that I think about it, there are quite a few messages in this book. You should read it. :-)