Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Firmin the Vermin

I wanted to like the book "Firmin: Adventures of a Metropolitan Lowlife" by Sam Savage (Minneapolis: Coffee House Press, 2006) more than I ultimately did, but it just didn't deliver more than a faintly humorous look at the development of bibliomania. The book's plot follows the life story of a young rat in a gentrifying Boston neighborhood. It started out with great promise; a hilarious illustration and first chapter description of Firmin's boozy twelve-teated mama collapsing after her nightly carousing on a bookshop basement floor to let her thirteen offspring (do the math) suckle. His rat siblings Sweeny, Chucky, Luweena, Feenie, Mutt, Peewee, Shunt, Pudding, Elvis, Elvina, Humphrey, and Honeychild leave runty Firmin hungering for something more than depleted mammaries and he finds succor in exploring the upstairs bookshop. At first he literally devours book pages (later he describes toilet paper as tasting like Emily Post) and then begins to slavishly read them.

Unfortunately, the successive chapters are just not as arresting. The writing becomes more leaden and old-fashioned and I found myself having to stop skimming ahead for exciting bits. The idea of a rat as a bibliomane is so full of promise, but the bibliophilic bits were grudgingly provided, sort of like a chocolate chip cookie with only one or two chips. I did enjoy Firmin's opinion of his fellow rodents in literature, like Ratty, Mickey Mouse and Stuart Little, whom he disdains as "affable, shuffling, cute, they stick in my craw like fish bones".

Overall, Firmin is a book that might be enjoyed more by a Bostonian or a die-hard science fiction fan (Firmin hooks up with a panhandling novelist in the later sections), but one which left me somewhat unsatisfied after plowing through.

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