Friday, June 26, 2009
weekly book review: the story of edgar sawtelle, by david wroblewski
The Story of Edgar Sawtelle is a massive, yet effortless and engaging book that I very nearly didn't read thanks to the hype machine. (Sorry, Oprah. I just don't trust your book club.)

Borrowing a bit from Shakespeare, Stephen King and Kipling, Wroblewski's story is, as the title suggests, the story of a mute boy named Edgar Sawtelle, born to a family of dog breeders. Although Edgar's handicap is a hinderance at several key moments in his life, communication is, ironically, one of Edgar's strengths. He's a wordsmith, develops his own unique system of signs, has an uncanny ability for communicating with animals, and at several moments in his life he even appears able to communicate with the dead.

However, while often a gift, Edgar's disability makes him uniquely vulnerable, and so, like Mowgli from The Jungle Book, he has both a human mother as well as an adoptive animal one - a dog named Almondine who is his constant companion from birth. Similar to Mowgli, Edgar has to abandon human civilization at one point, surviving in the woods alone save for three dog companions while he tries to sort out a plan for dealing with his uncle Claude. Here's where Wroblewski takes a page from Shakespeare. Like Hamlet's uncle Claudius, Claude moves in to take the place of Edgar's father after his sudden, suspicious death. After seeing the ghost of his father, Edgar becomes convinced that his father's death was not an accident and that Claude was the culprit, but with no proof to back up his suspicions, Edgar quickly becomes overwhelmed with feelings of frustration and rage. Sprinkle in some more ghosts, a mysterious wild dog, and a creepy town psychic and you've got a book that, although familiar at times, constantly left me guessing and wanting more.

Unfortunately, I didn't always get what I wanted. While I really admired the first 5oo or so pages, the last 60 frustrated the bejeezus out of me. I feel a little better about the ending after taking some time to reflect on it, and without going into too much detail I guess my biggest problem with the book was this: I didn't really want to read a heartwarming tale of a boy and his dog, but after deciding that that's what it was and that I was enjoying it anyway, I had geared myself up for an ending that satisfied like a heartwarming book should. That is not what I got, and so I suppose I felt a bit cheated.

So make no mistake, The Story of Edgar Sawtelle may be a book about a boy and his dogs, however, it reads more like King Lear than Where the Red Fern Grows. Prepare yourself accordingly and you should do well.

David Wroblewski
2008, 562 pages

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