ok i will admit that i picked up this book (the cry of the sloth, by sam savage) for three reasons:
- i liked “firmin” (savage’s first novel)
- i liked the cover design of this paperback (phoenix edition)
- the narrator is the editor of a literary journal
now the third point was probably the selling point more than either of the other two. thing is, i have been sending out poems / submissions to journals on- and offline again for the past couple of months and, well, am waiting to hear about most of them. i figured maybe it will help me take this whole journal thing more lightly. be more patient? kill some waiting time, in any case. 🙂
the book: andy whittaker, editor of the journal “soap” and landlord to a whole bunch of non-cooperative tenants, writes. we get to see what he writes, and so he characterizes himself through his letters, notes to his maid or tenants, shopping lists, and bits of a story he works on from time to time. andy is quite the character, if not several characters – he writes himself, re-invents himself and his relationship to others anew every time he picks up his ballpoint pen. He will make you cringe. Also involved is a photograph of Marilyn Monroe in a bubble bath.
Dear Mr Mailer,You probably don’t know who I am, and that is good, since it allows me to introduce myself without having to fight through a thicket of misconception and prejudice […] we are hosting next May or June the First Annual Soap Festival of Literature and the Arts. […] It will be preceded by colourful brochures. Look for one in your mailbox soon. Of course you probably are thinking, what is in this for me? It is only natural that you should think this, and even ask it boldly were we in the give and take of conversation or should you be the kind of person who talks back to letters, as I am, as well as to the television. (p.192)[…] I have not worked out all the details. There is such a chattering in my mind of dates and times, schedules and program notes, it is like having a head full of talkative mice. Of the festival itself I’ll just say that it will be big. ‘How big?’ you ask, as well you should. Let me drop this small hint in lieu of an answer: there will be elephants. (p.194)
over the course of three, four months his own letters (sometimes letters to other editors, under fake names, all anagrams of his own) expose andy as conceited, arrogant, paranoid, a mercurial yet long-winded man capable of impossible enthusiasm and ridiculous pathos.
According to your reporter, ‘Whittaker snatched the microphone and began to rail against [Baker’s] work.’ […] As a scientific man, I place a high value on precision. What does it mean to rail? What precisely was said during this particular instance of ‘railing’? A factual account would run something like this: ‘Mister Whittaker, in a loud voice (they had turned off his microphone), but quite calmly, gave a brief critique of Miss Baker’s performance, in which he described her delivery as “menopausal mooing” and her poems as “cow farts”.’ […]I remain sincerely,Warden Hawktiter, MD (pp 188-189)
from the beginning, little notes such as this one raise doubts as to how professional he is about his publication:
Dear Marvin,Much as I would like to make amends for the screwup, I really can’t reprint your poems in the next issue. They were legible, with a little effort, in at least half the copies, and the people who got those copies, and who worked at making them out the first time, certainly don’t want to open the next issue and find them in there again. Send me something else, and if it’s any good, I’ll print that.All the best,Andrew (p.49)
andy whittaker’s “furtherance of the arts” escapades are enjoyable to read. Somewhere between self-aggrandisement and self-pity, at the end of the novel, the layers are all peeled away or have fallen apart and, finally, something like a writer appears. not someone who pretends to be a poet, a writer, a man of the arts, but someone who may honestly be a poet. or not.