William Ramsay's Reviews > The Story of Edgar Sawtelle

The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski
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Aug 28, 08

This is a very well written book with serious flaws. I cannot fathom what the point of the book is or why it's getting such good press. The author doesn't seem to understand the relationship between story and the flow of ideas. He skips over important details such as why anyone does anything they do in the story. What does all that dog training have to do with the story? And someone please explain the old woman at the grocery store. Great books, and even just good ones, use incident to explain motivation and to carry forward the ideas the book is trying to convey. This book is filled with incident that has no bearing on anything and the author carries the story forward with the help of ghosts, strange storms, and sudden unexplained shifts in the character's understanding of what is happening. In reality, I kept imagining that it was really a 576 page short story. It is certainly not a novel in the traditional sense. I think the buzz is because of the nice dogs. True, when I was a boy I had a really great purebred Collie who was really a human in disguise, and I still remember him very fondly, forty years on. But even Brody, my dog, could not warrant a pointless 576 page short story.
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Comments (showing 1-38 of 38) (38 new)

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Renata You really should warn readers that you are giving away serious spoilers! Your spoilers could certainly ruin the heightened drama of this novel.

William Ramsay I hate when people do that. You are right. I should be ashamed of myself.

Cindy Ely I'm just glad to meet someone else who doesn't understand the hoopla surrounding this book! I slogged through it, but then felt so angry at myself for wasting so much time on it. It's not often I dislike a book so thoroughly as I did this one...and I still can't quite figure out why!

William Ramsay It's nice to know I'm not alone.

Terri You are not alone. I finally finished slogging through this book very early this morning, and agree completely with your assessment of it, most particularly your statements about the flow of ideas and the lack of interconnectedness among events in the story. I'm baffled that more reviewers haven't noted these things.

message 6: by Lisa (new)

Lisa This is exactly why I don't read Oprah's selections.

Phyllis I liked this book. I read purely to be entertained and this book did that for me. I have to admit that the author "lost" me for a bit in the middle of the book, but all and all I enjoyed reading it.

Darci Everyone that has read this book that I know, including myself, doesn't understand why this is such a "must read". I don't think you gave anything away in your review. I am at page 480 and I found out more of the ending on Oprah's website than your review. I sure hope there is a great wrap up to this story because the rest of it has been a huge bore. I am only finishing it because I paid full price for this hard cover!

William Ramsay I changed my review after I was given a call down for revealing too much. I understand your concern for the ending, but unfortunately it's worse than the rest of the book.

Phyllis I have to agree. The ending was the worst part of the book.

message 11: by Darci (new) - rated it 1 star

Darci That makes sense, that you changed the review. I did finish the book. Overall, I think the basic idea of the book could have been a good story, in about 100 pages. So I couldn't agree more with everything you said including it being a good short story. I am still scratching my head over Oprah's endorsement.

Jessica Hah! I just read your review after posting mine. We have the same questions looming. I really found myself scratching my head after reading the book. Nothing was really answered for me and I hated the ending SOOOO MUCH!!!

message 13: by Evelyn (last edited Feb 25, 2009 03:32AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Evelyn Interesting. I absolutely loved this book and think it's one of the best I've read in a long time. The ending was difficult for me, but honestly that's because of how I felt about Edgar, not because it didn't work in the book. Since I have an alternate viewpoint, it will be interesting to see what you think of my explanation (which is only my opinion, of course).


Here's what I think (condensed version). The Story of Edgar Sawtelle is a tragedy in the classic sense of the word. That means that the seeds of Edgar's death are sown by his own actions, though he is not at all responsible for the initial reversal of his fortune. The whole point of the old lady in the store, other than to essentially provide the means for him to communicate as a toddler, was to show the readers that Edgar knew he shouldn't come back for his own good (remember she told him not to come back), but he did it anyway because the farm, the family, the dogs, and the truth were more important to him than himself. Or, put another way, he wasn't himself without those things.

As to some of the questions about motivation and plot, well: the dogs were not so much pets in this book as characters. The training, the way they worked with each dog, showed this, and also the dogs' actions at the end. They made their own decisions just as Edgar did, although he didn't truly understand that until late in the story. As for the people: Why did Edgar's father invite Claude to stay at the farm? Because he was a decent person who would not have believed his own brother capable of such treachery. Why did Claude kill him? Might as well ask why Cain killed Abel. He envied Gar and wanted his life, but more than that, he wanted to deprive Gar of it. Claude was, simply, a wrong 'un. Call it bad breeding. And why did Trudy take Claude in? She said it herself: he was all she had of Gar. And, too, he was willing to comfort her when she wanted comforting.

Opinion is a funny thing. You all disliked it, and I can see why, but I think it will be a long, long time before I read a book as good as The Story of Edgar Sawtelle, although I hadn't analyzed why until now. Thanks for making me think. :)

message 14: by Nancy (new) - rated it 1 star

Nancy I'm glad to read in these comments I'm not alone in not "getting it." The writing was beautiful, but the story threads never came together for me to form a coherent whole picture. Maybe if I'd paid better attention to Hamlet (as other comments pointed out the parallels between the play and this story) in my college Shakespeare class, I'd understand Sawtelle better. Or maybe if I re-read the book...but I don't plan to do that again for a long time, if ever. Much too frustrating for me.

Roberta It is a mystery to me why Oprah chose this book to promote. I received it as a Christmas gift and was very glad to read it, but never felt connection to the characters.

message 16: by Darci (new) - rated it 1 star

Darci Evelyn - your opinion was very interesting and you made many good points. Maybe you should have written such a book as you articulated the plot lines so much better than the author did. I think most people would agree that the idea behind the book wasn't such a bad one, but instead the execution was the problem. I would enjoy a book club discussion with someone like you!

message 17: by Di (new) - rated it 2 stars

Di Phewww....I thought it was just me!

Karin I'm glad I read these comments! I'm in the middle of the book right now and trying to understand what made it so popular. I figured perhaps I just wasn't a big enough dog lover! I will finish the book because my friend read it and absolutely loved it. For this reason alone I need to give the book a chance and read it all the way through.

message 19: by Christopher (new) - added it

Christopher Man this book was pretty awful. IF the dogs were characters who made there own choices, then why were they featured so little in their own chapters?

If the whole thing had been from the perspective of the dogs that might've been something. A lousy, bloated read.

Fizzgig76 A lot of the book's oddity has to do with the realization it is based on Hamlet (which I didn't realize until the end). The events that seem jarring in the book the ghost, the odd woman, the storm, the ending all can be attributed to Shakespearian style. That being said, I wanted to like the book more than I did.

Cjhays Evelyn wrote: "Interesting. I absolutely loved this book and think it's one of the best I've read in a long time. The ending was difficult for me, but honestly that's because of how I felt about Edgar, not becaus..."


Thank you for your post. I just read it today, and you put into words exactly what I have wanted to say to others who have read this book, and hated it. A great book is one that reels one in, and causes her to lose herself in the story. The foreshadowing and allusions are often overlooked by someone who is just reading a book "to see what happens". That's the difference between a great book and a so-so book. A so-so book can be skimmed just to get to the ending, but a great book needs to be read, enjoyed and savored, for the words and their form are as much parts of the experience as are the conclusion and wrap-up.

message 22: by Elaine (last edited Aug 11, 2009 10:35AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Elaine for Dad...Use your imagination. See symbolism. think about the discipline of the training - and what you might learn if you have a dog of your own

Maria thank you for your eloquent review, it was everything I was thinking and made me feel like I wasn't the only one.

message 24: by Julia (new) - rated it 1 star

Julia Clark THANK YOU for saying what I was thinking upon finishing this book!

message 25: by Beth (new) - rated it 2 stars

Beth I just finished this book yesterday and I completely agree with you. There were so many good ideas, interesting seeds planted, the writing was good, but somehow all of the elements never quite came together for me.

Susie Do you love dogs???? That would help you understand....It all flowed perfectly for me....The story is about pure love......and then there is the brother who is a devil.
The old woman is just a smart lady.....she knows what is going on when everyone else misses it.
I just hate a sad ending...but that is life sometimes....I want to see the dogs come back in another book

Robert Dad - perhaps I should stop reading. I just finished the rain storm with the 'rain man' and can't imagine how its going to come together is a satisfactory way to explain the dogs, their selection, their training and how it relates to Edgar gaining an understanding of life.

Hannah I agree with you somewhat. I too wondered what the motivation was, not enough explanation. But I was captured by the language, imagery and the human/animal connection. But yes, there were many loose ends.

message 29: by B (new)

B Weimer Heard the author talk about this book and his writing process. This is the middle book of three he plans to write. Yes, he is writing them out of order. The next one is techically the the first : dealing with the grandfather and the beginning of the farm, dogs etc etc. He was an intersting speaker.

Kathy I am so glad I read these comments. I have not read Hamlet, so I couldn't have made those connections. It was brilliant of the author to, however. That said, I am going to say the same thing I tell my third graders who like to write "series" books: your book should stand on its own merit, and not depend on the reader having read something else first. Although this book is probably much more enjoyable if you have Hamlet schema, it is way too confusing if you don't. There should be something in the blurb on the back to let people know this is important background!

message 31: by Ruth (new) - rated it 1 star

Ruth Here's the review I posted.

Let me just say straight out that anthropomorphism does not sit well with me. I almost jumped ship on page 30, where the story hopped over to the POV of Almondine the dog and had her thinking and reasoning like a human being. I love dogs. I’ve had quite a few in my lifetime. I speak dog well, we relate to each other well. But I think they lose their own innate dignity when people try to turn them into people. A dog is a lovely thing. It is not an inferior human being. It is not superior human being. It is a dog. And that is enough.

However, I soldiered on. To its credit, the book is smoothly written. Serviceable prose, even if one only very occasionally encounters the kind of writing that lifts the heart. Most of the writer’s attempts to wax poetic were so over the top that they created a fog of obscurity that spread over the entire novel. Fuzzy writing=fuzzy thinking.

To hang an inferior book on the bones of Hamlet does not make it a better book. The Hamlet connection is unnecessary and interferes with our ability to see the book for itself,and unfortunately invites a comparison in which the imitator necessarily comes off far on the short side.

I found the ending particularly irritating. Not the tragedy, but the idea that the hope for the future lies in the dogs. Hope of the world in dogs? That thought wouldn’t have crossed my mind but for the overdone hype of the entire book concerning the characteristics of dogs. Nevertheless it did cross my mind and it diminishes the book by its pat striving for a happy ending.

The part of the book that worked best for me was when Edgar and the dogs were staying with Henry, an endearing man and the most believable and sympathetic character in the book. This was one of the few parts where for the most part I didn’t feel as if I were having to crank my suspension of disbelief ostentatiously into place.

As for the ghosts. Don’t even get me started. Suffice it to say that the book could have been written to work without them. But then the author would have had to drop the Hamlet crutch, wouldn’t he?

Cmariewt Everything you said here is exactly how I feel about this book. I have been an avid reader since Kindergarten and I have never in my life been so frustrated by a book. It took me over a year of putting it down and picking it back up again.

message 33: by Kari (new) - rated it 1 star

Kari I am finding much relief in reading these comments. I have never finished a book and felt this unsatisfied. Throughout the book I was bored, yes, but more puzzled as to why certain story lines were even necessary. I "reviewed" this book before the last chapter. It wasn't until I finished the book that I read these comments. I feel as though this book was written in random spurts with no clear idea or concept in mind.

Andrew Jacobs Agree 100%

Susan Sangster Totally agree with this comment. So many details in this book and still wondering why?? What was the point of it all?

Sarah B. It drove me nuts trying to figure out which Hamlet character the old woman at the store was supposed to be. Still have no idea who she is or what she's for.

message 37: by Abby (new) - rated it 5 stars

Abby The only purpose of the lady in the store that I could find was to build tension and add to the plot, but she was probably my favorite character. She does remind me of the witches in Macbeth, (although that's the wrong play) who predict Macbeth's path to despair and downfall. I wish the author actually focused more on her and her creepy husband, the butcher, because I found them extremely intriguing as characters. She also serves the point of forewarning Edgar that nothing good could come of him returning to the farm after his little escapade through the Chequamegon. Because of her, Edgar knew that Claude would attempt to kill him, knew about the bottle, knew walking into the barn for the last time that he would die pushing open the door on the floor of the mow, the act that would kill Claude. She added more of the supernatural flavor to this book, which just wouldn't be the same otherwise.

message 38: by Matt (new) - rated it 5 stars

Matt the old woman is like an ancient greek oracle… hence the mysteriousness. The plot, otherwise, mirrors Hamlet very closely. Even the names of the characters, Edgar and his father have the same name (Hamlet and King Hamlet), Claude - Claudius, Trudy - Gertrude. It definitely helps to read Hamlet before reading this book and I just happened to have finished reading it in school before picking this book up. absolutely loved it

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