Sam Savage’s most intimate, tender novel yet follows Harold Nivenson, a decrepit, aging man who was once a painter and arts patron. The death of Peter Meinenger, his friend turned romantic and intellectual rival, prompts him to ruminate on his own career as a minor artist and collector and make sense of a lifetime of gnawing doubt.
Over time, his bitterness toward his family, his gentrifying neighborhood, and the decline of intelligent artistic discourse gives way to a kind of peace within himself, as he emerges from the shadow of the past and finds a reason to live, every day, in “the now.”
“Stream-of-consciousness fiction with a satisfying emotional weight: another intriguing experiment in narrative voice from Savage.” —Kirkus Reviews
“[An] elegiac, articulate tale.” —Publishers Weekly
“With paragraphs as rich as koans, this is as powerful a meditation on living life—and facing its end—as you are likely to read anytime soon.” —Booklist
“Savage . . . has created something of a late-life oeuvre examining the interior world of the end years of life . . . and once again we are treated to this writer’s uniquely unflinching, painful yet beautiful examination of an aging, regretful intellectual and how a life story rarely has a logical ending that makes the beginning and middle parts make sense.” —Star Tribune
“The Way of the Dog is perhaps [Savage’s] best novel yet . . . It’s as if Savage has rolled Bukowski’s Henry Chinaski, Ellison’s Invisible Man and Dostoevsky’s Underground Man into a more forgiving modern observer.” —Shelf Awareness
“The Way of the Dog is a deeply felt meditation on the ability to find peace as we age and how our existential dread can be turned into something sublime and meaningful.” —Kansas City Star
“The Way of the Dog is Savage’s most elegiac, tender novel to date . . . For this besieged but genuine artist and writer, grace arrives as a second chance to appreciate, in what time he has left, the fact that life — and art — is never about getting everything right.” —Atlanta Journal-Constitution
“In this expressive and finely written novel, perhaps Sam Savage is indicating that a frail pact can be made by two adults to continue on living, and if it includes care and love, it will keep people alive, not in a blissful peace, but in a cessation, however short, from illness and painful memories.” —The Winnipeg Review
“When you put down this book, you’ll want to think about it. . . . It will soon become apparent that you are now a part of Savage’s world, which is the great triumph of any piece of literature.” —NewPages
“The Way of the Dog is poetic in nature, both for its lovely prose, but also for the stance: searching looks at the things closest to us.” —January Magazine
“Sam Savage has crafted a rich and thought-provoking small masterpiece.” —Shelf Unbound
“In elegant, lively prose, [Savage] gives voice to the voiceless . . . and the marginalized.” —ForeWord Reviews
“Savage manages to get his readers emotionally invested and questions the idea of ‘progression’ in the arts, yet he also highlights the importance of art and the inner peace it can bring.” —The Badger Herald
“Savage’s novels are tragicomic, funny, outrageous, unlikely, fantastic . . . and eminently readable.” —WOSU Columbus Public Radio
“Savage’s writing is full of wickedly off-beat humor while disquietingly delivering spot-on characters who represent the ails of America (and American fiction).” —Hot Metal Bridge
“[T]he startling clarity and unrestrained candor of Nivenson’s remarks yield a deeply registering performance . . . The Way of the Dog may not be Savage’s most charming book, but it is his most compelling.” —On the Seawall
“The Way of the Dog is a story about a man finding peace without the restrictions of an identity defined by profession; without the ways that childhood traumas shape identity; without whatever he ‘does’ or ‘did’ or has not done as an artist, major or minor—all while the world grows younger around him.” —BOMBlog
Write On! Radio, interview with Savage
Nothing is more laughable than for a minor artist, some art cripple or useless art-product waste producer, to kill himself over his so-called art failure. In his studio perhaps, surround by his mess, by his dreck, by all the detritus in which he has invested so much of himself and that nobody will ever give a damn about.
I have known for a long time that my art tastes were outdated and ridiculously romantic. I see now that my paintings, which I collected through a decade of patient acquisition, which I thought were one-hundred-percent advanced, were in fact already “discards of history.” I see now that they have no value, are essentially worthless daubings. If I had the physical strength I would throw them all out. I would hire a dumpster, park it out front, and toss them in. I imagine that if I really managed to do that I would feel immensely better, that I would be practically cured.
I am—I will be the first to admit it—the number one besmircher of them all.
It was not entirely my fault. In the beginning, and in fact for years after the beginning, decades after that, I was constantly interrupted. The interrupters camped in my house, eating my food, sleeping in every room, sleeping on sofas, rugs, on summer nights the porch was littered with them. There was always somebody around, under foot. I would get up in the morning, thinking I was alone, planning to set to work that very day, I would enter the kitchen and find three or four of them sitting at the table. I fed them, housed them, gave them money in exchange for paintings. I thought of myself as an art patron, a mécène, while in fact I was a vulgar grubstaker. I thought of myself as the center of the art whirl, while in fact they were circling me like hyenas.
They came because of Meininger. They came from all over the world because of Meininger. Not just from Europe. From Turkey, Israel, Brazil, Japan. Hundreds of them came during the three years Meininger stayed at my house .
Those people who were always around me, whom I actually took steps to keep around me, whom I constantly pandered to even when I was behaving towards them with maximum hostility, prevented me from creating anything but scraps.
The first painting I would destroy would be the most prominent painting, the Meininger “Nude in Deck Chair” that hangs on the wall above the baroque mantel. The garish way the artist has rendered the really classical nude figure, the way he situates her in the midst of the commercial trash that one can see actually defines her, the table covered with so-called beauty products, the water in the pool behind her that looks practically toxic, once appealed to me precisely because almost everyone else found them completely offensive. The hideous acrylic colors, the way the details of the body of the woman, this classically beautiful woman, are rendered in a soft and even blurred way except for her breasts and sex which are reproduced in a photographically realist style, making them the actual focus of the work, made me consider this painting extremely daring, though I see now that it was always a completely ordinary painting, a thoroughly boring piece of juvenile art.
I never draw the shades—one is broken in any case—and anyone looking in has a perfect view of my wall of paintings. In the center, directly above the mantel, they see the huge Meininger nude. If they look in the window at night the first thing they notice is this offensive, contemptuous painting. If the frame light above it is turned on, especially when the rest of the room is dark, the painting is practically on the sidewalk.
Peter Meininger never referred to the mantel simply as a mantel or even a chimneypiece. When he spoke of it, it was always the Nivenson mantel. The electric bill, he might say, is on the Nivenson mantel. He did this, I understood, to call attention to my foolish waste of thousands of dollars.
The woman in the Meininger nude, surrounded by plastic trash, holds a silver bell, a small silver dinner bell clasped between thumb and forefinger as if she is about to make it ring, as if she is about to summon a servant.
The hard, even scornful expression on the model’s face, her posture in the deck chair, the position of the legs, the hand—Meininger wanted to call up images of Manet’s Olympia, to overlay the nineteenth century whore on this modern American housewife.
In order not to see the painting, when I am in this room, which is almost all the time, I would have to shut my eyes. Even sitting in the wing chair facing the window, my back to the mantel, I see it reflected in the darkened panes.
Moll is back. She has switched on the lamp in the kitchen, sending a sliver of light under the door to the dining room. She is mucking stealthily about in there, hoping not to wake me. From my bed I listen to the faint rasp of drawers sliding open and closed, the muffled clap of cabinet doors, a sudden brief screech of a chair on the tiles. She will be using the chair to climb on, to look on top of the cabinets, hoping I might still keep money up there.
The kitchen light blinks out. Coming through the dining room, groping in the dark, she crashes into the wheelchair, pushes it roughly aside, grunting with effort: the wheelchair’s brake is set. The noise has made her apprehensive. She holds herself still for a time. I can feel her there, rigid and immobile, a scarcely breathing tension in the air. She is letting her eyes adjust to the dark.
She comes over, crosses the creaking parlor floor and stands by my bed, looking down, breathing heavily from her exertions with the chair, from the tension. I pretend to sleep, watch her through slits. In the light from the streetlamp, she seems bigger. Backlit by the window her face is in darkness.
“I know you’re awake,” she says, her voice coming out of the darkness. I don’t say anything. I keep my eyes shut, watching through slits.
I can see her dimly, rummaging at the sideboard. She pulls out drawers, slides a hand all the way to the back of each one. She lifts the lid of a little china box, pours the coins into her pocket. A moment of awkward clinking while she struggles to fit the lid back on again.
“Now go away,” I say.