Book Review: "The Cry of the Sloth"

As I mentioned before, upon finishing Salman Rushdie’s “The Enchantress of Florence,” I had several books to look forward to. The first one I picked up was “The Cry of the Sloth,” by Sam Savage. Unlike “Enchantress,” less than a week later I turned the last page to find there was no more. And it’s taken me this long to write a post on it because I’ve spent the last week soaking it up from my memory of it. That’s how I read, though I’m not sure why. Some people move right on to the next book when done reading a previous book. It takes me a bit to fully digest that book enough to move on to the next. And so it was with “The Cry of the Sloth.”

Overview

“The Cry of the Sloth” is a collection of a man’s writings. From grocery lists to letters to signs he posts on the apartments he owns, Savage slowly, but surely, leads us into the life of a down-on-his-luck author/literary magazine publisher/reluctant landlord named Andrew Whittaker. These glimpses into his divorce, his growing disillusionment with the his literary magazine called “Soap” and his inability to succeed as a writer grow more and more depressing as the novel continues.

Gut feelings

There is something in Andrew that is quite possibly a mirror of us all. His faults mirroring our own faults, and that also creates quite a bit of food for thought. As Andrew gets more and more wrapped up in himself and hides from the world in his dark, empty house, you can almost feel the despair seething from the pages as Andrew attempts to fake a cheery outlook on life to his ex-wife. And perhaps the most haunting passage is the book’s namesake, when he explains how the cry of the sloth would sound if naturalists actually understood that lonely creature. Savage sneaks this metaphor in until suddenly you realize that this is really Andrew, a sloth at the end of his age crying out in despair over the lonely, sedentary life nature has forced him to have (again, the fact that he blames nature for all the sloth’s troubles also helps remind the reader how Andrew got where he is today).
And it was the growing detachment and desperation is really what made it so difficult to get over this book. There are moments when you feel as though Andrew is just a victim of circumstance and then there are times when you know that he has brought this all on himself, in fact he deserves his fate for all that he has done. And perhaps the most thought-provoking part of Savage’s story is that you aren’t quite sure what his fate was. To that question I dedicated several days, reading my most recent issue of National Geographic to distract myself when it all got too much to comprehend. I’m still not quite sure what his fate was, but it was definitely a speedy read, due partly to the content and partly to the fact that it is often much easier and quicker to read separate letters in first-person than to slog through long chapters of third-person prose.

Bottom line

It’s worth reading, but not if you’re looking for the next beach read, or even, a drink-hot-chocolate-as-the-snow-falls-outside-read. It also made me want to pick up Savage’s other book, which he published before “Cry.” I’m told that “Fermin” is about a rat who not only learns to read, but also likes to. Sounds intriguing, no?
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2 thoughts on “Book Review: "The Cry of the Sloth"

  1. I LOVE non-standard fiction. It's a recent obsession imparted on me from a professor from my last semester in school. We got to read the likes of Lydia Davis, Michael Martone, and Ander Monson. I love the idea of playing with stories – and not just with an interesting idea for a setting or a writing style. I love the idea that just about ANYTHING can be a narrative. That's what my professor was trying to show us, anyway. I remember writing a story completely in business cards. I made about 100 of them and stuck them all in a fishbowl. A class-mate of mine wrote a story entirely through a man's death documentation: his will, his headstone, etc. I love the idea that a story doesn't have to be a book or a novel – it can form organically from things like ads in a paper, a lost dog sign, a post-it note. I would love to experiment more with this type of story telling – but first I want to pay homage to my first love: the novel.If you want to read some more "experimental" fiction I would totally go for Michael Martone's book called "Michael Martone." You'll never look at contributor's notes the same way again, i promise.I think you've convinced me to read this book – and to start writing more.

  2. Thanks for the recommendation. I'll pick it up soon, I hope. As far as non-standard fiction goes, I definitely enjoy it. A lot of people consider it lacking in plot, but they just aren't reading it correctly. Speaking of book recommendations, one I would heartily recommend is How to Paint a Dead Man by Sarah Hall. It's not non-standard fiction per se, but Hall plays really well with point of view. In a book that weaves 4 disparate times and places together, her use of point of view is a creative cue for the reader and I found it really fun to work out which point of view meant who and why she chose to represent them that way.

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