Tuesday, February 7, 2012

The Story of Edgar Sawtelle


You  may have noticed a serious absence of book reviews here over the past month.  This book, The Story of Edgar Sawtelle, took an embarrassingly long time for me to read.  To be fair, it've about 600 pages long, but that's no excuse!  Please accept my sincere apologies, and read on for the scoop on this Hamlet-esque novel.
David Wroblewski's first novel was chosen for the Oprah Book Club, but don't hold that against him.  Edgar Sawtelle tells the story of a boy, born mute, in rural Wisconsin.  Edgar is the presumed heir to a kingdom of meticulously trained dogs, with his father Gar and mother Trudy acting as the rulers of the Sawtelle land.  He's grown up with a nearly telepathic dog, Almondine, keeping track of him when his parents aren't around.  The family leads a sheltered, not especially exciting, life until Gar's brother Claude shows up.  Soon after Claude enters the picture, Gar dies and Trudy begins taking up with his brother; this, obviously, leaves Edgar feeling frustrated, angry, and out of touch with his mother.  He spends more and more time with Almondine and the other dogs, substituting their animal affection for human companionship.  When a freak accident forces Edgar away from the farm, Almondine, and his mother, he's forced to take care of himself in the wild and depend on the kindness of strangers to survive. 
I enjoyed portions of The Story of Edgar Sawtelle, especially the second half.  It's difficult to get into, as the beginning of the book is so much exposition, with very little action and dialogue.  As Edgar doesn't speak, much of the "dialogue" is short and signed; it would be a stretch to assume that he and his mother are having hours-long discussions in sign on the death of Gar.  Once Edgar leaves the farm and there is action (Edgar traveling by foot for days at a time, breaking into houses to sneak food, etc.), it picked right up.
Wroblewski does an expert job of weaving Shakespeare's more famous tragedy into the novel without it being a complete re-telling.  Claude=Claudius, Trudy=Gertrude, is a bit outright, but using a dog breed endeavor for a country is genius, and keeping Edgar/Hamlet mute does make him seem less emo.  I don't know that I can recommend this book 100%, but the majority of it is a pleasant read. 
Keep in mind, though, that this is based on Hamlet, which does not have a happy ending.  It's best to expect that as you near the last pages.

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