Cry of the Sloth book review

Reviewed by Gretta Barclay

The Cry of the Sloth by Sam Savage has the desperate ring of truth, while, at the same time, showing how humor can get us through almost anything.

Andrew Whittaker (Andy) is a slum landlord with no resources to fix anything; a novelist with the merest hope of ever writing a published novel; and the journal editor of his own literary magazine, SOAP.

This novel is for those who not only love books, but also the process and angst of writing them. For Andy, this is an ongoing battle as he tries to keep body and soul together while dreaming of becoming the next John Updike.

Throughout this book, one reads snippets of his novel as he continues to write, and the reader knows, assuredly, it is not going to be a best seller.

Andy’s struggles are related through a series of letters. He periodically writes to his wife, from whom he is separated, saying that he cannot send her any more money; he barely has money for himself. And, there are letters to his tenants who plague him with demands he cannot fulfill -- such as fixing a leaking ceiling.

Andy tries to promote his literary magazine, SOAP, by soliciting articles from old pals who are now successful writers, always complimenting them, tongue in cheek. At the same time, he is trying to put off unsolicited submission from writers with no talent at all -- which his magazine seems to attract.

He rejects a collection of poems titled Swinging the Mattock, a long treatise on beekeeping, writing to the would-be published poet: “The bees have a lot of personality, but there are too many of them, and their names are confusing.” And “I believe your poems that mention horses would have a good chance at Corral or American Pony.

So, on Andy’s life goes as he puts off his bank loan officer; has his phone turned off and makes shorter and shorter grocery lists, living on the barest of necessities.

He is a disillusioned, struggling artist in the extreme, and needs saving from himself. In his despair and growing madness, Andy begins to create performance art for his neighbor across the street, who watches him through her binoculars.

“Last Thursday, I so surpassed myself that I have not dared to perform since. I hauled a huge Royal typewriter up to my upstairs window and began to frantically type away. I let the frenzy build, continuing to hammer away at the keys. Then, I staggered back against the wall, stumbled forward and grasped the typewriter, lifting it high above my head, and then hurled it out of the window,” to the horror and excitement of my watching neighbor.

That she bounced wildly in her chair was all the applause Andy needed, but he then says to himself, "I am otherwise, despite my histrionic talents, quite tired of myself," and then adds, "if only I could walk out of myself the way one walks out of a house."

This novel and the persona of Andrew Whittaker is one of great humor and great sadness. One is left with a renewed awareness of the artist's struggles to create -- often while penniless and alone.

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