Four months in the life of a desperate, depressed and sexually frustrated landlord.
Andrew Whittaker blames “low-quality tenants” for the disrepair of his buildings in the Midwestern town of Rapid Falls. He has a somewhat better relationship with estranged wife Jolie, even though she left him to pursue an (unsuccessful) acting career in New York City. Letters to Jolie and a variety of significant others chronicle the declining fortunes of Andy’s real-estate holdings and of Soap: A Journal of the Arts, the literary publication he founded and edits. Savage (Firmin: Adventures of a Metropolitan Lowlife, 2006) intersperses as well grocery lists, rental ads (“BIG AND COZY!”), rejection form letters and fragments of what Andy describes as “an odd little something which I suppose we’ll have to call a novel,” whose protagonist is plainly his alter ego. Correspondence also documents sexual behavior that might seem inappropriate and/or despicable, but mostly comes across pathetic. Andy attempts to change his luck by planning a literary festival that sounds more like a circus or carnival: Its slogan is, “Far Out is Fun”; attractions include elephants and bumper cars. “I thought we could give the cars the names of literary fashions—Romanticism, Realism, etc.—and a person could choose his affiliation and crash it into the others,” he says to an aspiring poet he’s hoping to seduce, despite the fact that she’s a schoolgirl. Andy attempts to convince former friends who have become successful writers to participate in the festival without recompense, but the only result from such missives is that one of them starts seeing Jolie. His solipsistic ravings barely acknowledge the Nixon presidency during which these letters are written.
Indomitable human spirit, or a master of self-delusion? Either way, Andy is a triumphant achievement, squirm-inducingly credible and the palpitating heart of this very funny, very dark novel.