Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Firmin by Sam Savage

"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.

My take: 2.5 to 3 looks
I am a sucker for books whose main character is a member of the Muroidea superfamily of Rodentia. The protagonist, Firmin, shot this book to 3 looks on merit alone. However, I take issue with the writing of the book, most specifically the use of various and random vulgarities. It is completely unnecessary,and it feels that the author is doing it just to move his novel out of YA and into a more mature audience. It doesn't serve him well. I found this is be very distracting, adding no value to the story or voice of Firmin.

With that said, I have read many reviews that state that it is a sad novel. I didn't find it so at all. I felt that Firmin had an excellent life (lest we forget he is, after all, a rat). He had an excellent home, learned to read and understand books, made a friend, and was able to find fairly good meals. The fact that he settles down in the end to await his fate is not sad, but poignant. All his life, he has tried to rise above what he is. Finally, he comes to terms with the fact that he is not a man, not an author, not a dancer or pianist, but a rat. I found it to be rather fitting.

Despite the author's sophomoric style with his use of vulgarities, I found his writing to be witty and smart. I highlighted several words, and would consider this a word-building book. I would recommend it, but not if you are easily offended.

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