The Cry of the Sloth by Sam Savage


The Cry of the Sloth by Sam Savage has a desperate ring of truth. At the same time, the novel demonstrates how humor can get us through almost anything. Andrew Whittaker (Andy) is a slum landlord with no resources to fix anything, a novelist with the merest hope of ever writing a published novel, and the journal editor of his own literary magazine, SOAP.

This novel is for those of us who not only love books, but also love the process and angst of writing them. For Andy, it is an ongoing battle as he tries to keep body and soul together while dreaming of becoming the next John Updike. Throughout The Cry of the Sloth, we read snippets of Andy’s novel as he is in the process of writing it–and we know, quite assuredly, this is not going to be the next bestseller.

All of Andy’s struggles are related through a series of letters to various people in his life. He periodically writes to his separated wife who lives in a different city; he writes that he cannot send her any more money because he barely has enough for himself. And, there are the letters to his tenants who are constantly plaguing him with demands he cannot fulfill like fixing a leaking ceiling.

Andy tries to promote his literary magazine, SOAP, by soliciting columns from some of his old pals who are now successful writers. Meanwhile, he battles with the unsolicited, untalented writers, who constantly submit to SOAP. A collection of poems called, Swinging the Mattock, is quickly rejected, as is a long treatise on apiculture . . .

The bees have a lot of personality, but there are too many of them, and their names are confusing.

And here:

I believe your poems that mention horses would have a good chance at Corral or American Pony.

Andy’s embittered life continues as he puts off his bank loan officer, has his phone turned off, and makes shorter and shorter grocery lists, living on the barest of necessities. He is a disillusioned, struggling artist in the extreme, and needs saving from himself. But this is not to be. In his despair and growing madness, Andy begins to create performance art for his neighbor across the street, who watches him through her binoculars.

Last Thursday, I so surpassed myself that I have not dared to perform since. I hauled a huge Royal typewriter up to my upstairs window and began to frantically type away. I let the frenzy build, continuing to hammer away at the keys. Then, I staggered back against the wall, stumbled forward and grasped the typewriter, lifting it high above my head, and then hurled it out of the window, to the horror and excitement of my watching neighbor.

That she bounced wildly in her chair was all the applause Andy needed, but he then says to himself, “I am otherwise, despite my histrionic talents, quite tired of myself,” and adds, “if only I could walk out of myself the way one walks out of a house.”

In the end, the literary magazine, SOAP, dies a dispirited death as its editor “crawls from the wreckage,” and is seen leaving town on a bus. This novel, in the persona of Andrew Whittaker, is one of great humor and great sadness. We are left with a renewed awareness of the artist’s struggle to create–often penniless and alone.

The Cry of the Sloth by Sam Savage

Gretta-BarclayWriter of poetry, novels and short stories. Teacher of writing at Heartland Community College. Private tutor: ESL. Married; two daughters. Live in Normal, Illinois. Love art in all its forms.

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