Reviewed by Erik Lambert
So often we hear of the descent of people who go from lives of great fun and passion to ones of hardship and regret. Many books show that scenario, but none like Sam Savage’s The Cry of the Sloth. In it we meet middle-aged writer, editor, and landlord Andrew Whittaker. A man who believes himself to be of high standing and great moral compass with an uncanny knack for finding writing talent, even though he goes through a series of months from July to October where not only does his fledgling literary journal, Soap Magazine, experience a bombardment of criticism but Andrew also must deal with rather unscrupulous tenants of his housing complex. All this while trying to maintain an eroding relationship with his ex-wife and other former friends and colleagues.
We get a very rare peek into the way to tell a story by the use of Andrew’s uncanny knack for writing letters. Savage employs second person point of view to express the true feelings and wit of an intelligent man high on enthusiasm but low on respect for others. “I am sorry you were misled by the phrase ‘does not meet our needs at this time’ into thinking you should submit it again. In the publishing world ‘at this time’ really means forever.” Andrew’s tendency to tell people how he feels while simultaneously being remarkably devious is a defining characteristic of a man feeling more and more trapped in the rotting world around him. He even defends himself to negative reviews through fake pen names. His house is growing dirtier. His bank accounts are shrinking. His list of friends grows shorter. Everywhere the man turns he finds another problem to tackle. Savage doesn’t let up with just letters either, he also provides lists, reviews, and book passages as windows into Andrew’s fluid mindset. In that we see Savage’s astuteness for philosophy, thanks in large part to his Ph.D from Yale.
Andrew is not just an editor and landlord. He is also a man looking for sympathy where none is to be found. Constantly he writes letters to writers and friends explaining his choices and the horrid trials he goes through as a result. He masks his true feelings for a person with precise wording, often insulting someone while making it sound like a compliment. While he may be a grandmaster of oratory, the author makes sure he is not a “knower” of people. Through that The Cry of the Sloth becomes a funnel in which Andrew Whittaker get poured like a slow mire of molasses down the drain until one sees him collect on the bottom to be flushed away. The letters and lists start to change. The once passionate pleas or clever retorts are replaced by a deeper understanding that his time in that house and with those people had run its course.
Like so many of us, Andrew aspires to new beginnings. The run of bad luck he faces induces a transformation. One day he suddenly realizes his life is empty. What can he do to stop it? Run. Run for the horizon and look at the stars. Anything his heart yearns him to do because he has lost something that must be found. How often everyday people experience that feeling is beyond imagination. The Cry of the Sloth is one giant letter to that person who is in denial about the state of their being. It tells the reader that if you aren’t truly happy with what you do and who you are, why are you wasting time continuing to do that and be that? Through honesty and reality Savage puts us on the shoulder of Andrew Whittaker and sows the seeds of one man’s revolt against the one person he must understand to be happy: himself.Posted on November 22, 2010 at 12:30 PM