Synopses & Reviews
In the basement of a Boston bookstore, Firmin is born in a shredded copy Finnegans Wake,
nurtured on a diet of Zane Grey, Lady Chatterleys Lover,
and Jane Eyre
(which tastes a lot like lettuce). While his twelve siblings gnaw these books obliviously, for Firmin the words, thoughts, deeds, and hopes—all the literature he consumes—soon consume him. Emboldened by reading, intoxicated by curiosity, foraging for food, Firmin ventures out of his bookstore sanctuary, carrying with him all the yearnings and failings of humanity itself. Its a lot to ask of a rat—especially when his home is on the verge of annihilation.
A novel that is by turns hilarious, tragic, and hopeful, Firmin is a masterpiece of literary imagination. For here, a tender soul, a vagabond and philosopher, struggles with mortality and meaning—in a tale for anyone who has ever feasted on a book…and then had to turn the final page.
"Savage's sentimental debut concerns the coming-of-age of a well-read rat in 1960s Boston. In the basement of Pembroke Books, a bookstore on Scollay Square, Firmin is the runt of the litter born to Mama Flo, who makes confetti of Moby-Dick and Don Quixote for her offspring's cradle. Soon left to fend for himself, Firmin finds that books are his only friends, and he becomes a hopeless romantic, devouring Great Books sometimes literally. Aware from his frightful reflection that he is no Fred Astaire (his hero), he watches nebbishy bookstore owner Norman Shine from afar and imagines his love is returned until Norman tries to poison him. Thereafter he becomes the pet of a solitary sci-fi writer, Jerry Magoon, a smart slob and drinker who teaches Firmin about jazz, moviegoing and the writer's life. Alas, their world is threatened by extinction with the renovation of Scollay Square, which forces the closing of the bookstore and Firmin's beloved Rialto Theater. With this alternately whimsical and earnest paean to the joys of literature, Savage embodies writerly self-doubts and yearning in a precocious rat: 'I have had a hard time facing up to the blank stupidity of an ordinary, unstoried life.'" Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Blending philosophy and abundant literary references with originality, Savage crafts a small comic gem about the costs and rewards of literary illusions." Booklist
"This is a cleverly written memoir of the colorful lives and distinct shops of a Boston borough that was sadly replaced by lackluster government offices." Library Journal
"Firmin, the debut novel by Sam Savage, gives us the funny and strangely touching story of this melancholic and intellectual rat and, in showing us the artist in the rat, makes us understand the rat in every artist." Minneapolis Star Tribune
"An amusing diversion for bibliophiles and Willard fans; in Savage's debut, a rat's life may be brutish and short, but not necessarily without style." Kirkus Reviews
Born in a bookstore in a blighted 1960's Boston neighborhood, Firmin the rat miraculously learns how to read by digesting his nest of books. He quickly realizes that a literate rat is a lonely rat. In a series of misadventures, Firmin is ultimately led deep into his own imaginative soul.
About the Author
Sam Savage is a native of South Carolina now living in Madison, Wisconsin. He received his bachelor and doctoral degree from Yale University where he taught briefly, and has also worked as a bicycle mechanic, carpenter, commercial fisherman, and letterpress printer. This is his first novel.
Reading Group Guide
To escape his hard life on the streets of 1960s Boston, Firmin takes refuge amid the stacks in Pembrokes Books, losing himself in literatures faraway worlds one volume at a time. What makes Firmin unique, though, is not his voracious appetite for reading, but that he actually eats
some of the books hes read. You see, Firmin is a rat-a gifted, imaginative rat who possesses a wise soul. In this inspired and poignant novel, Firmin takes readers along as he struggles to survive in the heart of Bostons notorious Scollay Square, revealing what it means to be an animal cursed-and blessed-with human instincts.
The award-winning Firmin has been heralded by Publishers Weekly as “an alternately whimsical and earnest paean to the joys of literature,” and the following questions are intended to help direct discussion of this compelling and unconventional tale.
1. Chapter One of Firmin
begins, “I had always imagined that my life story…would have a great first line.” How would your autobiography begin?
2. Discuss anthropomorphism, the literary device that allows human characteristics to be assigned to non-human beings. Why do you think the author chose to employ this method in the novel? Would the story have been different if Firmins tale was told by a third party?
3. Continuing on this theme, why do you think the author chose a rat as his narrator? Could the story have been told from the vantage point of another animal? What makes Firmin so unique among his brethren in the wild kingdom?
4. What did you think of the illustrations throughout the book? Did they enhance your reading experience?
5. When Norman, the proprietor of Pembrokes Books, catches sight of Firmin in his perch in the stores ceiling, he sets out to kill the rat-upending Firmins fantasy of developing a two-sided friendship with the man. Why did Firmin think he would be accepted as anything other than a rodent when Norman discovers him?
6. Through Firmins eyes, we see the city of Boston-particularly Scollay Square-in a time of upheaval and, ultimately, destruction. What was it like to read about the city from an animals point of view? What did you learn?
7. “Could it be that I, despite my unlikely appearance, have a Destiny?” (page 37) What was Firmins destiny? Why do you suppose he was gifted with the ability to read?
8. “The fact is, I had no voice,” (page 40). Is there irony in the fact that Firmin could think, reason, and read, but was unable to communicate with any other beings than rats?
9. Consider Firmins propensity for capturing images in his mind and assigning captions to them. Why do you think he did this?
10. Talk about Firmins relationship with Jerry. How much of it was real, do you think? How much of it existed in Firmins imagination?
11. Near the end of Chapter Fifteen, Firmin says, “I had spent a lifetime looking at the world through cracks, and I was sick of it.” What does he mean by this statement?
12. Firmin hallucinates seeing Ginger Rogers in Jerrys apartment, with her telling him at one point, “Everyone has two jobs, Firmin, a day job and a night job, because everyone has two sides. You do, they do, I do. No one can escape it,” (page 159). Do you agree with the sentiment that each person has two sides to their personality? What were Firmins two sides?
13. Discuss Firmins slow trip back to his birth home, in the basement of the bookstore. Was it meaningful that he chose to return there?
14. “ ‘But Im loothing them thats here and all I lothe. Loonley in my loneness, ” (page 163). Here, Firmin quotes one of the ending lines in James Joyces Finnegans Wake. Is there significance in Sam Savages choice to include this line in the ending of Firmin?