There will be elephants

The Cry of the SlothCoffee House Press releases Sam Savage’s new novel this month, and it more than lives up to expectations for this sharp-witted, amusing author of Firmin

Once again Savage engages us in a plot about a literary enterprise seeing its final days. In Firmin, it is a Boston bookstore. In this new novel, it’s a Midwestern literary magazine, Soap

The narrator is Soap Editor Andy Whittaker, who also manages a few rental properties inhabited by combative, non-paying tenants.

The time is pre-email 1970s with a few mentions of Nixon in The White House. Andy writes hilarious letters of advice, want and ridicule to Soap’s contributors, his ex-wife, friends, local arts organizations and those difficult tenants. These missives create the tart, animated narrative along with a few excerpts from Andy’s unfocused novel-in-progress.

Responses to the letters aren’t included, and we don’t need them. Andy’s self-pitying and smartly-quipped effusions are enough to illustrate Savage’s clever take on self-aggrandizing writers, snobbish arts organizations and the scrabbling life of aspiring writers.

Hope for salvation lies in a Soap festival of literature and the arts. Andy attempts to lure authors by telling them it will be big.  “‘How big?’ you ask, as well you should,” he writes to Mr. Mailer, whom we can safely assume is Norman. “Let me drop this small hint in lieu of an answer: There will be elephants.”

The more desperate Andy’s situation becomes, the more he uses his wit and mockery to beg, inform and deceive. His letters showcase a shrewd, spirited personality that’s high entertainment.