The Story of Edgar Sawtelle is a beautifully told tale of a sensitive young boy, mute from birth. Edgar lives a simple and purposeful life with his parents, Trudy and Gar, the keepers of the Sawtelle dog-breeding legacy. Disaster arrives in the person of Gar’s estranged brother Claude, cleaving Edgar from the security of his family and home.
The story is primarily told from Edgar’s point of view, but it does cross over, at times, into the thoughts of other characters. I always appreciate an author’s decision to let us see into the toughest characters, such as Trudy, offering readers a chance to sympathize with a complex and frustrating player in a story.
If you are someone who finds setting to be a powerful appeal in writing, this book is exemplary. You will swear you have tramped through the north woods of Wisconsin before the book ends; Wroblewski has a blade-by-blade-of-grass eye for detail. This style will be pleasing to many, though not all; my book group felt that though the story was meticulously told, it was, at times, overtold and they fatigued a bit on the prose style.
Portions of the novel, perhaps some of the most heart-wrenching, are told from the perspective of a dog, Almondine, an animal so perfectly suited for companionship that, as Edgar sees is, she is the keeper of his soul. These passages are so sweet and sorrowful that for anyone who is soft on dogs (or isn’t made of stone) they will have remarkable power. I do recommend this novel to lovers of language, and of dogs, but with a caveat: (SEMI-SPOILER ALERT) this is a tragedy and the stage will be littered with corpses before the curtain falls. My book group ended up emotionally drained after reading it. Following the group, I had to take refuge, for the weekend, in a mystery novel. But I found that I missed Wroblewski’s use of language, of that feeling of being drawn in by plot, yes, but so much more.
David Wroblewski has chafed somewhat at the comparison of his book to Hamlet. This is an intriguing choice of complaint, since he based the plot on that same Prince of Denmark and several of the characters’ names are derivative of the cast. I found myself wishing, in fact, that he had strayed a bit farther from that play and veered into say, All’s Well That Ends Well. This is such a remarkable book and it remained with me so powerfully that I couldn’t help but wish it hadn’t been so incredibly sad. But our hearts are made to be won and broken by great characters as they lift us up – and let us fall – with their remarkable tales.