The Nourishment of Fiction
Firmin by Sam Savage is a wonderful read, especially for bibliophiles.
It’s no accident that Firmin’s name rhymes with vermin, since he is indeed a rat. Born in the basement of a Bostonbookstore at 3:17 P.M. on April 30, 1961, Firmin is the unfortunate thirteenth member of his mom’s litter. Since she can only feed twelve at a time and Firmin is the runt, he is reduced to eating books instead of drinking his mother’s milk. So he is nurtured by gnawing on Finnegan’s Wake and soon comes to imagine that his adventurousness comes from devouring Moby Dick and his sense of being a strange outcast results from turning Don Quixote into confetti.
Firmin, of course, is a good stand-in for any author learning his craft. His developing imaginative life lets him distinguish among various authors by the texture and taste of the books on which he gorges. His mother and siblings eventually vanish, but he remains in the bookstore that is his birthright and home. When he discovers an equally solitary sales clerk in the bookstore, Firmin dreams of a friendship that could transcend their differences.
Unfortunately, this section of Boston is to undergo urban renewal and the bookstore is to be torn down. How Firmin deals with this and the other challenges of his life make for a touching, inventive, and wonderful read. The loveliness of a rat with a writer’s sensibility is brought home to each copy of the book by a neat graphic device: the right side of the book has literally been gnawed away. So we better ingest this marvelous stuff quickly or a hungry rat may fill himself first!