August 24, 2011

The widow’s story

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In this brooding third novel from Sam Savage, narrator Edna is alone in the minute world of her tenement apartment, tethered—or rather, shackled—to reality by her last and only enduring acquaintance, her typewriter. Though it begins as a series of halting non-sequiturs, Glass transforms through Edna's pathology (and Savage's relentless vision) into a deeply felt exploration of memory, of what it means to outlive the sources of one's suffering.

Edna has been asked to write the preface for a new edition of her late husband Clarence's only novel. She has refused—in her version of Clarence, he was never more than a dilettante, sometimes boorish and always haunted by an unrequited desire for success—instead endeavoring to type out her own memoir, to "get it all out." Soon after the typing begins, Edna's neighbor leaves in her care an apartment full of plants, an aquarium full of fish and a pet rat named Nigel; the responsibility provokes Edna's contempt and occasional rage and keeps her from "forging ahead" in her narration.

As do her memories of Clarence: his infidelity, his shortcomings. Ditto the rats in Mexico, the film crew in Venezuela and the gardener at her childhood home. Every memory is a distraction, each sentence both a question and a clue that propels the mystery of the wreckage of Edna's life. What has led to so much pain? Is she a castaway, a victim, or has her torpor arisen from within, from the disturbances of an unsound mind? Because Edna yearns for contact but rejects it at every chance. And here is where the novel shines: through a Beckettian obsession with precision of language, the tension between solipsism and longing becomes primal, and through Edna, Savage creates a world so small that his reader is forced to confront the very stitching that binds together its existence, frail as that is.

As the ferns brown with neglect and as the snails go missing from their aquarium, Glass spirals outward from the rich imagery of Edna's past into the empty spaces of her future. Even where the story is plodding the novel is profound, and readers are ultimately rewarded with a nearly voyeuristic pleasure, watching as this human life unfolds, reluctantly, in all its tragic splendor.

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Coffee House Press
ISBN 9781566892735

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