Thursday, December 11, 2008

#24 - "The Story of Edgar Sawtelle" by David Wroblewski

I heard of The Story of Edgar Sawtelle (2008) by David Wroblewski through some surprisingly diverse channels including the Pajiba review, my father, and Oprah. The fact that all three sources liked and recommended this book is even more surprising. The only thing I knew about the plot was that it had something to do with a boy and some dogs, but I’ve always liked animals and the three separate recommendations had me putting it on my “read as soon as possible” list.

First, I have to definitively reiterate what I’ve heard from other sources about reading the book jacket before reading the book. I just happened to look over the book jacket again when I was about halfway through reading it. Having had just read the last 200 pages with tense anticipation and wonder and worry, I was astounded to see the main plot details thrown out in a couple of wasted sentences on the side of the book. I’m sure readers could still enjoy it having read the spoilers, but I sincerely believe the less you know going in the better.

Thus, I will skip any discussion of the plot, which actually isn’t even as important as the characters of the book and how they think and act and interact. I haven’t read a novel that drew me in so completely in a long time. I got so involved with the characters, that it was hard for me to put the book down. Edgar Sawtelle is a boy who lives in rural Wisconsin on his family’s farm where he and his parents, Gar and Trudy, breed and train dogs. Edgar was born mute and communicates primarily with his own version of sign language. The story follows Edgar but also delves into the lives of his mother, father, and some other characters that have a presence in his life. But a number of important characters are also the dogs in Edgar’s life. Now, I’m a dog lover, but Wroblewski manages to bring the dogs’ personalities and mindsets alive in a credible and captivating way. In short, Wroblewski made me believe in and care about the characters, so the actions that affect them throughout the story really mattered to me.


I was so engrossed in the characters, without a clue of what was going to happen, that I was actually very surprised when Edgar discovers that his father was murdered and the murderer was Claude. When I first started Part II of the book, entitled “Three Griefs,” I was thinking the three griefs would be the deaths of his father, his mother, and his wonderful dog Almondine, leaving him alone in the world. Obviously, I was anticipating a drastically different novel, but when I finally read that Edgar’s uncle had murdered his father and moved in with his mother, I realized it had to be based on Hamlet.

The part of the book I related to the most, however, was the relationship between Edgar and Almondine. Wroblewski managed to capture an incredibly strong connection between the boy and his dog. Their comeraderie and companionship was constant and reassuring, so whenever they were separated, I worried. Edgar also had a special relationship with three of the dogs whom he had trained from birth: Essay, Timber, and Baboo. Essay was smart, determined, and independent. Timber was high-energy and a little flighty, while Baboo was stable, patient, and loyal. I enjoyed the interactions between Edgar and these dogs as well, but Almondine was always Edgar’s true partner.

I was a little dissatisfied when I finally finished the novel, but I think this was mainly because I wanted more. I still had unanswered questions. I couldn’t figure out why Essay left with some of the dogs, where they were going, why they had to leave, and how they wouldn’t starve. I’m still not sure of the importance of the stray dog, Forte, in the story and why Edgar lured him back to the farm in the end. And I think that Edgar’s mother finally understood everything that happened, but that isn’t completely clear. And I certainly wouldn’t have minded if the story went on for a little bit longer, so I could find out what happens with Edgar’s mother, the sheriff, and the Sawtelle dogs. But just the fact that I’m still thinking about the book and wanting more shows what a powerful story this was for me.

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