Sunday, March 11, 2012

Audioreview: The Cry of the Sloth

Listened 2/24/12 - 3/5/12
3 Stars - Recommended to readers who prefer books with a protagonist that will make them feel like less of a failure.
Audio Download (approx 6 hrs)
Publisher: Iambik / Coffee House Press
Narrator: Charles Bice

We know it's hard to be honest with yourself. Especially when you're a middle aged man desperately trying to keep your small literary magazine afloat while adamantly ignoring the fact that you are flat ass broke.

And we know how difficult it can be to look around and realize that you are fighting a losing battle, a battle that no one else cares about - or perhaps even knows about - yet feeling completely unable to throw in the towel.

The Cry of the Sloth is the story of Andrew Whittaker, a complete and utter failure at everything he ever attempted to be.. a son, a father, a husband, a writer, an editor, a landlord, even a pervy flirt. It is told entirely from Andy's point of view in letter after letter to his tenants, his ex-wife, his mother's caretakers, the bank and phone companies, old acquaintances, and potential contributors to his one man literary magazine "Soap". Sometimes sarcastic, other times quite pathetic and woe-is-me, it's no surprise that Andy is running extremely low on funds... sitting around the house, incredibly sloth-like, only bothering to leave the house when he needs more groceries or mails his never-ending correspondences.

He's got these grandiose plans for saving his magazine, a festival-like fundraiser of sorts, complete with awards, music and food, and would you believe it....even an elephant or two! As he attempts to make this fever dream a reality by pitching it to other professionals and begging some money off of them, he ignores his tentant's complaints about the poor living conditions. Andy has the gall, at one point, to blame the leaking ceiling one man writes about on his own fat wife, claiming that she must be filling the tub too high with water and then plopping her heavy body into it, causing it to spill over the edge and drain down into the ceiling tile!

He is also terribly aware of the fact that no one takes him seriously. The papers shove each other out of the way to bash him when he makes an ass out of himself at various literary functions. A teenage would-be-writer teases him ruthlessly over a period of months, back and forth in response to his letters, sending photographs of herself dressed provocatively, then writing about her boyfriend (the photographer). And he knows his stories, which are horrendous and the worst part of the book, will never see the light of day.

The stress and aggravation of it all, of not being able to pay his bills - the nerve of the phone company shutting off his phone, to hell with the bank for not allowing him to fall behind in payments - of living alone, of simply being him, seems to finally be affecting his health. In letters to various colleagues, he begins to confide that he fears he is losing his mind... forgetting where he has placed things, turning the house upside down, only to find the very thing he was searching for three days later, sitting right out in the open, as though it had always been there. He's got a noise in his chest and by god, if he isn't hearing static in his head now....

How do I always end up choosing books with incredibly fucked up protagonists. I must have a thing for damaged guys. i'm serious. I am beginning to wonder if it's some sort of sick comfort thing for me.

Ok, so since I "read" this as an audio, let's talk about the narration. Iambik's narrator, Charles Bice, did a pretty decent job of conveying our Mr. Whittaker's frustration across my car speakers. The veiled sarcasm - something Andy really prides himself on - the mini freak-outs... Charles definitely seemed to have gotten inside the character's head. There were times he had me shaking my head in embarrassment for Andy, while other times I wanted to reach out and throttle him for being such a complete ass. The book itself is one of the shorter ones I've listened to, and Bice's voice, though it's hard for me to recall in my head at this very moment, blended very well with the narrative voice I imagine Sam Savage might have had in mind as he wrote it.

Now, having said all of that, when the audiobook finally came to an end, I was left with no strong feelings either way for Andy, the narrator, or the book as whole. Maybe it has something to do with the way it just seemed to end... without actually ending. There really was no sense of closure, no great climax, no moment of revelation or resignation. Yet, I wasn't upset about that, as I typically would be. I didn't feel cheated. I didn't feel angry. I didn't really feel much of anything.

I am not sure what to make of that.


  1. I think you basically feel the same way about it that Rob (my partner-in-crime at IB--a mostly silent partner at the moment, ha) felt.

    I actually really liked this book, but I seem to have a tolerance for fucked-up main characters. Andy made me laugh SO many times--I totally lost it when he was describing that guy as the kind of writer Hemingway would have been if he, Hemingway, had never gone to high school, I laughed so hard that I had to tell my husband so he wouldn't think I had just gone crazy.

    Andy was definitely not a likable guy, though, or a likable character in any sense. I think I liked the book because I could totally have been Andy if I hadn't been pushed or nudged in the right ways, so I can empathize with him.

  2. I love me some fucked-up main characters. (I highly recommend Joshua Mohr's THE TERMITE PARADE, Dave King's THE HA-HA, Steve Martin's THE PLEASURE OF MY COMPANY, and the other recent audiobook I've reviewed - THE TERRIBLE PRIVACY OF MAXWELL SIM).

    I don't think I had any real laugh out loud moments but man, did I want to make this guy see himself for what he really was, you know?!

    1. I think I love just about everything Steve Martin as written. And DAMN, I just remembered that I missed getting Damascus at the library. Like, by four days. I was going to read it while I was in California, and now I am bummed, heh.

  3. I'm not a big fan of messed up main characters. I mean, I like them to have a few flaws and be realistic of course, but I don't know if I'd enjoy reading about the guy in this book. You wrote a great review on it though,very well written.

    -Kate the Book Buff
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