Publisher: Coffee House Press
Distributed by: Ingram Book Group
ISBN-13: 978-1-56689-181-3
ISBN-10: 1-56689-181-7
Price: $14.95 | trade / b&w illustrations
Trade Paperback Original: 164 pages
Publication Date: April, 2006
Trim Size: 5 x 7 3/4

Firmin: Adventures of a Metropolitan Lowlife
Sam Savage, illustrated by Michael Mikolowski

A darkly comic rat's tale of exile, unrequited love, and the redemptive power of literature. Unforgettable!

Set in the 1960s, this richly allegorical story follows a literate rat through his life in Boston's Scollay Square during the last days of its famous bookstores and infamous burlesque houses. Born in a bookstore, Firmin's only nourishment comes from his nest of shredded books. Absorbing more than pulp and glue, he miraculously learns to read and soon begins to identify more with humans than rodents. Unlovely and unable to speak, Firmin's attempts to befriend people result in both comical and harrowing misunderstandings. Through a series of misadventures and against a backdrop of urban destruction, Firmin is led deep into his own imaginative soul—a place where Ginger Rogers holds him tight and tattered books, storied neighborhoods, and down-and-out rats alike can find people who adore them. Brimming with charm and a wistful nostalgia for a world that once treasured authors and their books, Firmin is a darkly comic fantasy for everyone who has been transformed—for better or for worse—by an early diet of great literature.

A native of South Carolina, Sam Savage now lives in Madison. This is his first novel.

Illustrator Michael Mikolowski is an artist who lives just outside of Detroit.


  • Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers Selection
  • Litblog Co-op Read This! Selection
  • Book Sense 2006 Highlight
  • Library Journal Top Debut Novels


"A surprising and surprisingly moving meditation on the advantages (and disadvantages) of an entirely fictional life. Eloquent and witty, Firmin speaks for the book-loving rodent in all of us."

—Karen Joy Fowler, author of The Jane Austen Book Club

"Firmin is a hero in the Dickensian mode...with the sardonic shadings of Vonnegut, and the same explicit tenderness....Savage has captured the essential tragedy of a world in which the artistic impulse kneels before the bulldozer. . . . [A] moving and wildly inventive novel."

Los Angeles Times Book Review

"Granted consciousness and a deft way with English, [Firmin] uses his bottom-up point of view to briskly recount the foibles of human and literary life, as both are endangered by the cleansing rampages of urban renewal in 1960s Boston."


"A deeply philosophical rumination on the joys of a literary life...Firmin offers a humane, thought-provoking look at what it means to be human from the most inhuman of narrators."

Madison Capital Times

"A direct descendent of Orwell's Animal Farm, Savage's Firmin...expose[s] our flaws, fractures, and infinite follies."

Poets & Writers

"If a rat who imagines himself to be Fred Astaire, studies phrenology, conflates his dreams and reality, and prefers paperback books sounds a little too precious, fear not...First-time novelist Savage dispenses with cute creatures and delivers a rodent's rodent. And, in the process, an exquisite homage to lives lived between the pages of a book."


"Firmin, the debut novel by Sam Savage, gives us the funny and strangely touching story of [a] melancholic and intellectual rat and, in showing us the artist in the rat, makes us understand the rat in every artist....Firmin's beloved Scollay Square is headed for destruction and with it the food scraps, hiding places and fringe culture that sustain him. When the wrecking ball and the ghost of his beloved Ginger Rogers come to claim Firmin, Savage makes us ponder what all has been plowed under in the name of eradicating blight, both in our cities and in ourselves."

Minneapolis Star Tribune

"An intriguing satire...With this darkly charming book, Savage has let his imagination out of the cage."

WBUR Boston

"A tale not to be missed."

Midwest Book Review

"A witty novella and a powerful homage to a life lived through and around books... Firmin: Adventures of a Metropolitan Lowlife merits repeated readings for Savage has filled its pages with much food for thought. This gem of a book should be a treasured addition to any bibliophile's bookshelf."

Ready Steady Book

"Fun and provocative."

Altar Magazine

"A smart, playful, painful, and ultimately compelling exploration of, oddly enough, what it means to be human in an often inhuman world."

Eclectica Magazine

"Alternately comic and tragic, but always infused with a love of books, and of the funny, hairless creatures who create and love them."

Emerald City

"A wry and remarkably thoughtful book about the state of imagination in American society....Firmin challenges our narrative assumptions by presenting us with a tale told by a rat, signifying perhaps both nothing and everything, about the relationship between reality and fiction. It can be read as a literal entertainment or a multilayered parable about gentrification and the palliatives and pitfalls of imagination."

The Litblog Co-op

"[A] wonderfully weird, wise and heartfelt tale."

Confessions of an Idiosyncratic Mind

"Savage's writing is exquisite...a very tasty read."

"Highly entertaining."

So Many Books

"[An] alternately whimsical and earnest paean to the joys of literature."

Publishers Weekly

"Blending philosophy and abundant literary references with originality, Savage crafts a small comic gem about the costs and rewards of literary illusions."


"A cleverly written memoir of the colorful lives and distinct shops of a Boston borough...Recommended for many collections."

Library Journal

"A rat's life may be brutish and short, but not necessarily without style."

Kirkus Reviews
From the booksellers . . .

Powell's Books Daily Dose Recommendation

"A profound study of alienation and the heartbreaking obscurity of the outsider, Firmin is also a piercing commentary on the human condition in an ever-changing society. Savage weaves an inventive and dreamlike tale, by turns hilarious and startlingly moving, completely outlandish yet utterly credible, and sure to bring a smile of deep satisfaction to its readers."

—Barnes & Noble

"[Firmin] ingests books, he becomes addicted to books, and this love dominates his life, perhaps ruins it. Willy-nilly quoting Jeeves and Shakespeare, Firmin is aware of his tragedy—he reads, he thinks, he dreams of life beyond rat-dom, but he can't speak, just squeak....Witty and sad, Firmin's tale is for anyone who loves words."

—Father's Day Recommendation, Shelf Awareness

"Hilariously self-deprecating."

—Jessica Stockton, McNally Robinson, The Written Nerd

"Firmin is an amazing little gem, finding that rare and delicate balance between playful and wise. It's also a moving exploration of the incomparable pleasures and pains of living in this harsh world as an introspective, observant, and sensitive human being (even if you're a rat)."

—Robert Gray, Fresh Eyes Now

"Deeply enchanting and poignant, without precious whimsy."

—Three Lives & Co. Staff Recommendation

"A unique novel...The author, Sam Savage, is to fiction what Gary Larson is to cartooning—off the wall. You have to read Firmin!"

—Fran Wilson, Colorado State University Bookstore

"This novel—about a literate rat who lives in a bookstore and befriends a Kilgore Trout-like sci-fi author—is a dash of humanist magical realism."

—P. Constant, Elliott Bay Book Company

"How can you not like a book that has, as its main characters, a rat and a bookstore owner limned warmly yet creepily against a backdrop of the demise of Boston's infamous Scollay Square in the 1960s? The tale is told by Firmin, the rat, who begins life as a runt, thirteenth in a litter nested in Norman, the bookseller's, basement. Firmin eats books to survive (his mother lacks a thirteenth nipple), devouring everything from the Bhagavad-Gita to comic strips to Irish history to astronomy, beginning with Finnegans Wake, 'the world's most unread masterpiece.' Although at first he is indiscriminate—'My devourings at first were crude, orgiastic, unfocused, piggy—a mouthful of Faulkner was a mouthful of Flaubert as far as I was concerned'—Firmin eventually becomes what he eats: 'I read the diary of Anne Frank, I became Anne Frank.' His adventures in eating, reading and skulking around Boston are pretty hilarious, irreverent, and more than a little dark and Kafka-oid: 'I got on conversational terms with all the Big Ones. Dostoevsky and Strindberg, for example. In them I was quick to recognize fellow sufferers, hysterics like me. And from them I learned a valuable lesson—that no matter how small you are, your madness can be as big as anyone's.' I urge you to read this great little (148 pages) book. Firmin is the greatest rat since Templeton."

—Lisa Howorth, Square Books

"Every booklover will want to have [Firmin] on his or her shelf....This book is quirky, literate, humorous and sometimes sad, but never ordinary. If you're looking for something of an escape yourself, or a gift for someone else, this is it."

—Janis Frame, Book Buffs, Ltd.

"Firmin is the kind of novel that pulls readers in with its very premise—the absurdity and zaniness leaving me to wonder how in the world it could possibly be pulled off in a believable and meaningful way. Yet it happens. In ways almost too difficult to describe in a few short sentences, the novel continues to pull and work within your head. I kept waiting for the moment when I'd say, 'Okay, enough, this just isn't working,' but I loved the book more and more with each page."

—Hans Weyandt, Micawber's Books