||[Jun. 29th, 2009|09:15 pm]
|||||"Nashville Parthenon" - Casiotone for the Painfully Alone||]|
A few months ago, I was browsing the shelves of a small bookstore in Berkeley when my rat-momma eyes zeroed in on a thin paperback manufactured to look like its pages had been gnawed on by a rat. As a rule, I buy almost anything rat-related I happen to come across; so I purchased it without a second thought. Judging from the adorable packaging, I was expecting a Ratatouille-esque story--something "cute" and at least mildly enjoyable for a rat-lover like me. What I was not expecting to find was a genuine piece of Literature, with a capital L. Funny, touching, and tragic, Sam Savage's Firmin is my new favorite book. I'd like to think that means a lot, considering the fact that I've never been able to pick a single favorite book before. The first time I finished reading it, I was riding the train on my way to work, and I bawled my eyes out in front of everyone (I'm talking non-stop tears, raking sobs, and globs of snot, here). I've read it twice more since then and cried again both times.
You don't need to like rats to sympathize with the title character. In the basement of a Boston bookstore, Firmin is born the runt in a litter of thirteen rats to a drunken mother who only has twelve nipples. Shoved aside by his bigger, stronger siblings at mealtime, he soothes the ache in his empty belly by gnawing on the only other things in his environment--books. As he eats page after page, Firmin somehow absorbs the knowledge of the printed words and develops the ability to read. Soon, his literary consumption becomes more psychological than literal (though he continues to allow himself the occasional nibble around the margins). Unfortunately for Firmin, this newfound skill creates in him a deep longing for the human world. No longer a simple rat concerned only with self-preservation, Firmin yearns for connection and understanding--for someone with whom to talk about philosophy, art, fiction, history, science, and all of the other things he's learned from his precious books. But other rats don't understand those things, and he doesn't have the physiological ability to converse with humans. He is isolated, a small, seemingly insignificant creature full of burning passions, unequipped with any way to communicate them. Anyone who has suffered even the slightest bit of loneliness will be able to identify with Firmin. I did, and I do... especially these days. I seem to have so very few friends at this point in my life, and I'm quite thankful to have found a new one in Firmin.
If you love books, read Firmin. If you love rats, read Firmin. If you love me, read Firmin. It's really the most wonderful piece of art I've ever had the pleasure of experiencing.
*A Note on the Subject-Line: At one point in the story, in a desperate attempt to communicate with a human, Firmin tries to learn sign language. Without actual hands, the only signs he can easily manage are "good-bye" (an energetic wave of the forepaw) and "zipper" (a zipping motion of the forepaw up his belly). Thus, "Good-bye zipper!" becomes his chant--his greatest, most courageous effort at reaching out to others. I'm seriously considering getting the phrase tattooed somewhere.