Cindy's Reviews > The Story of Edgar Sawtelle

The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski
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's review
Aug 04, 09

I heard about The Story of Edgar Sawtelle long before it was published, due to early rave reviews billing it as "An American Masterpiece!" I was breathless with anticipation as the plot sounded unbeatable—a mute boy runs away from home with a band of dogs he raised from puppyhood! It doesn't get any better than that. Except, sadly, Mr. Wroblewski can't write. I don't really want to be mean to him as he is probably a very nice person and this is his first novel, wich I am sure he is very excited about. But I feel I must, simply as a matter of public service, especially when a book arrives on the scene with this kind of hoopla (comparisons to Life of Pi! Call of the Wild! Hamlet even!!) let our readers know whether or not the book lives up to all the hype. And this book (Sorry Mr. Wroblewski) absolutely does not.

Here are just a few of the many problems:

1. The characterization. I still have no idea really who any of the main characters are—what drives them, how they think, what they feel. I have vague, general ideas (as one might get from a thriller or mystery where plot is the point rather than the characters) but nothing at all that makes me care about any of them.

2. The plot. The basics—a mute boy, his dogs, running away from home—are promising enough, but Wroblewski just does not know what to do with them. His book reads like a first draft of a first novel of someone who has not yet learned how to hold all the pieces together. And he is in desperate need of an editor. Which brings me to my next point.

3. The writing. It could easily have been half the length without sacrificing anything at all. There are whole pages that go nowhere, ideas that wander off into the woods never to be heard from again, tedious descriptions of tractor engines and chainsaws that have nothing whatsoever to do with the plot. And I did read the entire book, all the way to the bitter, boring end, hoping that somehow things would all come together and the book would at least somewhat redeem itself. It did not.

4. The dogs. This is the most disappointing and most unforgivable aspect of the book for me. As a long-time dog lover, I live for books about dogs—fiction, non-fiction, even kind of badly written books, as long as the dog part is well done. And I can promise you, this is not well done at all. The author must know something about dogs as his bio says he grew up on a breeding farm, but if so, he is clearly not capable of writing about them. The internal world he has created for them simply does not match how dogs are. If you want to read a good dog book, read Merle's Door, Dog Man: An Uncommon Life on a Faraway Mountain, Call of the Wild, Where the Red Fern Grows, Pack of Two, A Dog Year.

5. The ending. After being alternately annoyed and bored out of my mind for 500 pages, I still had hoped for some kind of payoff in the end. It is, after all, being marketed as a literary mystery. Perhaps there was some kind of WOW, I CAN'T BELIEVE IT!! final scene? Nope. The ending is stupid, unsatisfying and has all the melodrama of a soap opera. It is not suspenseful, it did not warm my heart, it did not make me believe in redemption or in the power of ghosts (oh yeah, did I forget to mention that? It's a ghost story too). It didn't even make me want to go hug my dog. And that's really saying something for a book that includes the death of beloved dog in the end.

My heart WAS filled with gratitude however that my copy was from the library so I could simply dump it in the return slot rather than curse the wast of money it would have represented had I purchased it.

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