Born mute, speaking only in sign, Edgar Sawtelle leads an idyllic life with his parents on their farm in remote northern Wisconsin. For generations, the Sawtelles have raised and trained a fictional breed of dog whose thoughtful companionship is epitomized by Almondine, Edgar's lifelong friend and ally. But with the unexpected return of Claude, Edgar's paternal uncle, turmoil consumes the Sawtelles' once peaceful home. When Edgar's father dies suddenly, Claude insinuates himself into the life of the farm—and into Edgar's mother's affections.
Grief-stricken and bewildered, Edgar tries to prove Claude played a role in his father's death, but his plan backfires—spectacularly. Forced to flee into the vast wilderness lying beyond the farm, Edgar comes of age in the wild, fighting for his survival and that of the three yearling dogs who follow him. But his need to face his father's murderer and his devotion to the Sawtelle dogs turn Edgar ever homeward.
David Wroblewski is a master storyteller, and his breathtaking scenes—the elemental north woods, the sweep of seasons, an iconic American barn, a fateful vision rendered in the falling rain—create a riveting family saga, a brilliant exploration of the limits of language, and a compulsively readable modern classic.
David Wroblewski grew up in rural Wisconsin, not far from the Chequamegon National Forest where The Story of Edgar Sawtelle is set. He earned his master's degree from the Warren Wilson MFA Program for Writers and now lives in Colorado with his partner, the writer Kimberly McClintock, and their dog, Lola. This is his first novel.
I'm torn. I'm torn between giving this book 5 stars and 1 star. The book is very thought provoking. It is well written, and very evocative of the time (early 70's) and the place (far northern Wisconsin.) This was a book that I had a hard time putting down, and indeed I stayed up too late several nights, and played hooky on chores an entire afternoon, so I could read it instead. I would give the first 500 pages five stars and the last 66 pages one star.
I went into this book thinking it was a YA type (and this may be one of the downfalls of a Kindle, you can't tell how really long a book is, or else I don't yet have the right feeling for interpreting the dots that show how far you've read in a book.) But...
Yes, it's a story about a 13 year old mute boy living on a dog farm/breeding kennel in the early 70's. Yes, it's a coming of age story. Yes, it's everything that sounds like a really good boy/dog animal story should be.
But... Think again. This book is a tragedy more than anything else. It's what you might get if you crossed Hamlet or King Lear with Old Yeller. The ending is very heavy on the Shakespearian side of the scale. If I wasn't reading on an electronic device I might have thrown the book across the room after finishing the last paragraph. I felt so cheated by the ending. I wanted a happy ending, or at the very least redemption & feeling good, and that's not where I am. At all. Right now I really wish there was someone else around who had read it so I could talk about it.
I thought this was going to be a warm, fuzzy, boy & his dog coming of age story that would be a fun summer read. It's not, this book is a tragedy pure but not simple. The more I think about it the more connections I am finding to King Lear. Edit: From the author, this is actually a retelling of Hamlet.
This is an extraordinary novel, Hamlet in the North Woods of Wisconsin.
Wroblewski was very fond of the stories of Shakespeare as a kid, if not necessarily the actual text, and it is clear that he carried with him the knowledge of tragedy. Edgar opens with a mysterious transaction in the Orient in which a man seeks out a purveyor of a particularly effective poison. That will feature large later in the story.
Edgar (Hamlet) is a boy born without the power of speech to a family (father Gar and mother Trudy) engaged in the business of raising very special dogs, so-called Sawtelle dogs. The author made up the breed. Edgar is accompanied by his faithful companion, Almondine, born only a short while prior to the boy. She is a wonderful character and I wish there was more of her in this book. She is Ophelia. Edgar is a hard-worker who manages to become quite adept at his dog training. It is his life. There is a mystical seer in the village, Ida Paine, who can be counted on to say some sooths. She is so spooky she is almost comedic, but her purpose is other. Finally, the household is joined by Claude (Claudius), Gar’s brother. He very much reminded me of Iago, and even a bit of Richard the Third as well as of his Hamlet inspiration. Claude and Gar never got on well, and we can expect more of the same even though they are teamed, for a time at least, in working the dog business.
This is one of the most moving books I have ever read. Edgar is an immediately sympathetic character, beset by malevolent forces and unable to make himself heard. While one can see early on that the Shakespearean DNA will lead to a dark place, the journey there is magical. Do not be put off by the impending troubles. There are triumphs as well as defeats in store.
Wroblewski was also very fond of Kipling’s Jungle Book as a kid and Edgar takes on the role of Mowgli as well as that of Hamlet. There is immense charm to accompany the danger when Edgar/Mowgli is afoot in the wood/jungle with his personal pack.
It is shocking that this is Wroblewski’s first novel. It sings with the language of a master. Read it aloud and hear for yourself. You will come to love Edgar, ache for Almondine, weep for some, smile at the kindness of a few, rage at others. This is not just another book, but an emotional engagement that brings with it the satisfaction of literary content and beauty of language. If you have not had the opportunity to travel with Edgar, seek him out and howl with joy and sorrow. One of my all time favorites, this is a great, great book!
Links to the author’s personal website. His Twitter account does not appear to have been touched in a couple of years and I found no FB page by him. In his site, you might enjoy the tangents page, for a diversity of interesting information and links.
PS - Wroblewski will be returning to the North Woods in his next book, telling the story of Edgar's ancestors. Edgar took him ten years to write. I don't think the prequel will take quite so long, as he will, hopefully, have made enough money from Edgar to allow him to spend full time writing. I can't wait. (Well... as of 2022 that has not happened, so one must wonder if it will)
PPS - I happened across a very nice interview with Wroblewski on Bookbrowse.com
And. several years later, I stumbled upon this interview with Oprah
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.
I guess I have to be the spoilsport here. I did not like this book.
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?
Anyone can base their work on a Shakespearean tragedy. Go ahead: try it. The goal is to make it speak for itself. This novel has no voice. It's stunningly inauthentic in its modesty and brazen in its ambition. This poorly-conceived and executed book may appeal to a shocking number of readers, but it doesn't make it worth one of the dogs that inspired it.
I feel like Joe the Plumber in Israel: I have a thousand questions in my mind yet I can't think of the right one. Well, I can: how can so many people possibly have raced through such a supremely tiresome book? Why does Wroblewski seem more interested in describing the chattering leaves than in explaining how Edgar seems so isolated from anyone his age despite his supposed popularity at school? Was it necessary to include a passage in second-person that had probably been an exercise for an MFA course? Why bring up the implausible news coverage of the Starchild colony only to drop it for more than a hundred pages? (I haven't gotten to where it's mentionned again, but I'm sure it will be miraculously resurrected sooner or later.) Why has nothing yet been said of the type of people who get Sawtelle dogs, for what purpose, and how they learn of them?
Admittedly, I would have enjoyed reading this more had I owned a copy and been able to mark up the margins with my distress calls: Help! SOS! Invisible mother! Starchild colony on TV!
I'm still uncertain as to how I managed to read up to p. 284 without committing an offense against the book (though my pug Sophie did chew a corner of its front cover, which I see as proof this book insulted her intelligence as well). But I will say, it's much more bearable to follow when I'm reading it to myself rather than hearing it read to me, making it easier to hide from his purposeful evasiveness and unnecessary detail--all for what purpose? To blind readers from the cardboard characters and juvenile efforts at seeming literary?
The writing reminds me of a short story I wrote in the fourth grade in which a dinosaur was rescued by a young child, who fed it orange sticks (hint: carrots) and thick white water (nothing dirty, just milk). The book contains so many clumsy flashes of would-be poetry: "The sapphire sky floated clouds made yellow by the sun. The Impala, neon blue" (or some such awfulness). Wroblewski inspired Frank to think up this beautiful garbage: "the pink honesty of the moon's whisper." Think about it: it's meaningless. So is most of this book.
No worries, I'll finish this book the next time I'm stranded on a deserted island. But would someone mind informing Wroblewski that humans, however empathetic of animals, do not trot to and fro?
I will not think of animal shelters, I will not think of animal shelters . . .
In fact, I did end up finishing the book before I incurred late fees and the wrath of Wroblewski's rabid fans. But no, I don't see how dogs are the future of humanity. My three dogs can't answer that one, either.
Stayed up half the night finishing it and… I really can’t be objective about this book. I said earlier how I was enjoying it purely as a reader and not a critic, but it goes deeper than that. It’s like Wroblewski had some kind of infrared Jungian checklist and somehow managed to find out all my childhood fantasies: benevolent and wise dog companion/nursemaid? Check. Super-intelligent semi-wild pack of devoted dogs that sleep with you at night? Check. I guess the only thing worse than being raised by wolves is wishing you were – as a kid I always had a fantasy of a wolf pack appearing on my street to take me away. I wanted a dog who would look out for me like Lassie. So this was like – pardon the crudeness of the simile – finding the porn that gets you off just right.
Even though there were problems – a series of transitions in the last quarter of the book that didn’t work well, and the last part in the barn wasn’t the climax or catharsis that I think the book wanted, and yeah, it was fat as a tick on a dog’s ear. But that didn’t matter much to me, honestly – I was so emotionally involved with the characters it was like being in love, in the way logic just flies out the window for a while. And it’s been such a long time since a book did that to me. I gave in, I did, I swooned.
Plus there’s a lot that was just right. His language is nicely suited to the tale, elegant and tuned into the natural world. Obviously I’m a dog person so I’m slanted that way in the first place, but I thought he wrote the dogs well. It’s always a treat to read someone who’s so carefully observed something that you have too. And much of the book flowed beautifully. But mostly it was the characters that moved me, people and dogs alike. Not necessarily their inner lives or motivations, which fluctuated all over the board in terms of plausibility – just the fact of them. They’ll stay with me a while. Lord, I cried so hard over Almondine I had to go sit outside for a few minutes with my arm around my own flesh-and-blood dog.
And the very last scene just called up my inner 8-year-old and made her happy. I couldn’t evaluate that dispassionately if I tried.
In the end I don’t really know what to say about this book that anyone else might relate to. All I know is it transported me, and it was a good ride.
I was SOOOO disappointed in this book. The only reason I gave it even one star is because of his depiction of the lovely dogs in the story. I felt like the author went overboard trying to 'wax poetic' to the point where I didn't know what he was talking about, even being unsure of what the progression of events was. The entire plot builds to a very important resolution THAT NEVER HAPPENS! What a sell-out. It felt like climbing a long flight of stairs with the anticipation of finding a beautiful room there, and just as you are about to take that last step, someone jumps out and knocks you in the head with a club and you go tumbling down the stairs. I was so mad I couldn't go to sleep after finishing it. So there you go. Oprah doesn't know what she's talking about.
I waged a personal debate for this five-star rating, arguing what exactly makes a book great. With every question, I returned to the story itself has the ability to lift a book above more average efforts.
'The Story of Edgar Sawtelle' is just that, a great story. A modern retelling of 'Hamlet'? Certainly, the author availed himself of the plot to frame his tale of a mute boy and a remarkable group of dogs, but there is much more to be enjoyed among these pages.
There are the languid narrative passages, vast and breathtaking paragraphs describing the north Wisconsin woods, the Sawtelle farm, the intensity of training dogs and the detailed geneology required to classify a breed. Make no mistake, if you like a fast read, this book isn't for you, the author's finely drawn sentences are meant to slow the reader, to step out of your hectic reality and allow yourself to dream.
As an aspiring writer myself, I understood how the author labored over every sentence, every word choice, he wanted everything to be perfect. That he was in labor for ten years with his story makes one wonder what he must of felt when he finished.
Some might argue the necessity for such extended prose. Are all those expanded descriptions really helping the story? Who the fuck am I to even dare that question? It all comes down to the story and when I am nearly breathless as a story comes to its inevitable end, such criticisms seem pointless. I shuddered at the two typos (pages 164 & 430), and for a time, those oversights in editing threatened a great story.
Edgar Sawtelle is an unforgettable character, like Huck Finn, or Ignatius O'Reilly, or Holly Golightly. He'll be an old friend for the rest of my life.
I had such high hopes for this book. Just read these descriptive passages:
“This will be his earliest memory.
Red light, morning light. High ceiling canted overhead. Lazy click of toenails on wood. Between the honey-colored slats of the crib a whiskery muzzle slides forward until its cheeks pull back and a row of dainty front teeth bare themselves in a ridiculous grin. The nose quivers. The velvet snout dimples…. Fine, dark muzzle fur. Black nose, leather of lacework creases, comma of nostrils flexing with each breath. …. As slowly as he can, he exhales, feigning sleep, but despite himself his breath hitches. At once, the muzzle knows he is awake. It snorts. Angles right and left. Withdraws. Outside the crib, Almondine’s forequarters appear. Her head is reared back, her ears cocked forward. A cherry-brindled eye peers back at him…. He pitches to his side, rubs his hand across the blanket, blows a breath in her face. Her ears flick back. She stomps a foot. He blows again and she withdraws and bows and woofs, low in her chest, quiet and deep…..Hearing it, he forgets and presses his face against the rails to see her, all of her, take her inside him with his eyes, and before he can move, she smears her tongue across his nose and forehead!”
I mean, “comma of nostrils”! Such a perfect dog nose description! I expected this stuff through the whole book!
The book opens with a mysterious prologue and even more mysterious description of the farm and particularly the barn. Then an even MORE mysterious kind of wolf puppy is discovered that somehow predicts something then dies. The novel lays out a nice plot – family raises dogs – has created their own breed – not because of the way it looks – but the way it behaves. They won’t sell to anyone one until it is an adult and is properly trained. Gar and Trudy try to have children, Trudy has several miscarriages, and finally (after the mysterious wolf cub is found and dies) they have a boy who is not deaf, but is completely mute. He has this marvelous relationship with the dogs, and a particularly close relationship with the above described Almondine. There is a tiny hint of magic as the plot progresses – just enough to make you warm and cautious at the same time. But somewhere between when the watery image of his dead dad appears and Page, the vet falls down the steps and dies and Edgar and 3 of his dogs run away, the book just falls apart for me. And during the rest of the read I hoped that the next page would pull away from the tedium that had set in and get back to business and answer some of the mysterious questions that the author had set floating around in his misty prose. But it did not happen. I either did not get it or “it” was not delivered. I struggled through the last half wishing I had followed Mike’s lead and stopped after the first 100 pages. How sad.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
I know many people adore this book and it had lots of hype some years ago via Oprah, but I'm afraid I didn't love it. It reads easily enough and flows well. The story is straight forward as well. Edgar Sawtelle is born mute and is the only child of Edgar and Trudy Sawtelle. They own a farm and breed dogs, very special dogs (known as Sawtelle dogs), which they then sell. It's all very idyllic until Edgar's uncle turns up from abroad bringing family tensions and history. The problem is that all the hype and the info on the back and in the quotes in the front tell you it's based on Hamlet; and it is as you realise from quite early on in the book, even without being told. You know then that it isn't going to end well and Wroblewski sticks fairly closely into the plot (despite a very brief foray into King Lear), even if some of the characters from the original are played by some of the dogs. This doesn't work well, particularly with the Ophelia character (a dog called Almondine). The reasons for the tensions between the brothers is just not clear and very unconvincing. The villain (Claude) is very two-dimensional, underworked and there is too little there to make him believeable. He just appears to be psychopathic and it is never clear why or how; too little nuance. I learnt more than I ever wanted or needed to know about dog training and it's way too long and rambling. It's also over sentimental; if you're going to rewrite a tragedy and keep it a tragedy, don't add loveable dogs into the mix! And as for the main female character (Trudy), she must be onr of the most unlucky characters in literature. Portraying Hamlet as mute is interesting, but the idea doesn't go anywhere as Edgar spends most of his time relating to the dogs and as a result the dogs (I think) are given over complex thoughts and reactions. The Hamlet angle was a mistake; there was the germ of a good (if sentimental) story here, but throw in the plot of the play and you have a recipe for disaster.
I feel like I'm one of the only people missing something here. I just finished a book about family, loyalty, dogs, and I just didn't get it. I didn't find myself connecting with the characters and as soon as I was starting to feel a connection (the last two hundred pages), Wroblewski throws out a half-baked ending leaving me saying, "What?". I'm not one that requires a tidy ending, but there should be some well-reasoned meaning.
Problems with rewriting Hamlet as a story about dog-breeders in Wisconsin: (1) Hamlet is already pretty good, and most writers don't profit by inviting the comparison. (2) It makes the plot pretty predictable, which is a problem for what was apparently supposed to be an adventure novel. Yes, Claude did it! (By the way, DW, why did he do it?) No, it's not Claude listening to your conversation with mom! Sigh. (3) The worst mistake you can make in an animal story, I think, is killing off a beloved pet for dramatic effect. It's like kicking the reader in the groin: it's a cheap shot, and no one can feel good about it. Almondine should have been Horatio, not Ophelia -- I was quite willing to see all the main characters die if it meant the dog made it out alive. . . . The second chapter of this book was absolutely beautiful. The rest made me grumpy -- Wroblewski obviously has enormous desciptive talent, and there's a sense of joy in his description of dogs that made me want to love the book, but I think his good intentions were hijacked by a misguided interest in Hamlet that gave him cover for his failure to figure out what to do with all these interesting ideas.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
The Story of Edgar Sawtelle is the type of book that seems to come along only once and a while. A book that provokes such varied reactions both mentally and emotionally within me is a rare book indeed. Yet somehow I both love the story of Edgar Sawtelle and hate it with a passion. Very few books disappoint me so completely as the story of Edger Sawtelle. Yet there are few books I admire more. The Story Of Edgar Sawtelle was an immensely annoying and irritating in it's vagueness, the disconnected series of events, a back story that only partially existed, and a series of characters that were immensely frustrating. The thing that really bothered me about Edgar was the fact that after reading a whole book about him I did not actually understand him as much as I would have expected from such a long book. The lack of motivation and justification for the actions and reactions of the characters within the novel was confusing and for me created a sense of confusion in reference to the back story. The plot was well done yet parts of it did not seem to fit together. The settings were undoubtedly superb and the mental imagery was second to none yet there was a vague sense surrounding the whole book. Parts of the book felt drastically out of proportion: large descriptions were given to the training of the dogs yet no reason was given for the disagrement between Edgar's father and uncle. The ending bothered me immensely: why did the dogs run away from the burning barn, did Edgar die, did Edgar's uncle leave the barn, what happened after the fire? This is a type of book that is incredibly powerful, profoundly tragic, and rare is a writer that can create a work that can compare to it. Highly recommended in every sense of the word.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Like so many movie previews these days, the book jacket on this one gave away pretty much the entire story. Jake's The book has received an incredible amount of hype (including here on goodreads), and I would not be surprised to see it on the short list for the Pulitzer. But, alas, this is not because I found the book to be particularly enjoyable. Edgar Sawtelle is a mute boy living on a farm with his mother and father. They breed an imaginary species of dog that has somehow been created by happenstance and intuition through years of mating dogs with characteristics Edgar's grandfather and father just knew would be right. The dogs have an eerie sixth-sense about them, yet it never really becomes clear in the novel why their strange pedigree actually matters. Rather, it all just seemed to be a gimmicky device - perhaps something animal lovers would glom on to. The basic plot is a Hamlet rip-off. Edgar's uncle (conveniently named Claude) comes to town - and in another inexplicable plot device - he has a long-standing grudge against Edgar's father. They argue and fight, and Edgar's mother explains that it all goes far back and has nothing to do with Edgar, but it never becomes clear where it comes from or why the reader should care. Edgar's father then suffers a somewhat mysterious death perhaps involving poison (don't worry, I'm not spoiling anything the publisher didn't already spoil on the jacket). Edgar becomes convinced his uncle played a role, and when the uncle gains the affections of his mother, Edgar becomes hell-bent on exposing the crime. Akin to Hamlet's little play within a play, Edgar sets up a scenario to prove his uncle's guilt, but alas the plan backfires. Edgar is then forced to run away - and we spend hundreds of pages following Edgar and three of his dogs through the forest, as their clothes become dirtier and they all become hungrier. In the end, Edgar returns home, and the overly dramatic ending, I found unnecessarily tragic. This is a strange book because it has so many laudable characteristics - it is at its core, very well written. Because of this, the plot itself is almost irrelevant and I found myself wanting to read more even though I couldn't put my finger on anything I actually found interesting in the narrative. Edgar is a very likeable character - he is quite clever, with an appropriate mix of naivete and precociousness. I also really loved the character of Henry - an older gentleman Edgar meets during his forest wanderings. But, there were just too many aspects of the story that went unexplained, or were too implausible to wrap my head around. I'm all for suspension of disbelief, but the lack of originality coupled with the over the top outcome was a bit too much.
After reading so many reviews of this book I was excited to start it --- It is very detailed and although I had some chapters I did enjoy reading very much - I thought the story was much longer then it needed to be and was frustrated by the fact that Edgar did not confront his mother when he first suspected his uncle since he and his mother had such a close relationship. It's hard for me to understand how they could be so close then he hides so much from her .. I know Trudy would of believed in him before taking the side of the uncle that was the black sheep of the family anyway ... I thought the book had a lot of filler information in it that really did not need to be there - all the old letters from his grandfather and the information on all the dogs - it could of been 1/3 of that to get the gist of it to know the history . I did enjoy the point of view from ALmondine when she was looking for , " her boy , her essence ,her soul" and it made me teary eyed.I do enjoy a sad ending NOW AND THEN and I always don't have to have things wrapped up nice and neat - BUT COME ON- the ending to this one --- spoiler --- don't read more if you don't want to know ------ the uncle poisions the kid and then leaves him in the barn to die in the fire , he also dies in the fire , and the police friend is blinded and the dogs run away -- that is a feel good read of the summer ! NOT ! leaves you feeling like WOWW did I just wasted how many hours reading this to feel what --- shitty !
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
The Story of Edgar Sawtelle received a lot of advanced hype. The writer was mentored by Richard Russo and Stephen King wrote the mother of all blurbs for the book. While I didn't love it as much as he did, I did like the book very much. I wouldn't call it a classic piece of American literature, but it's probably one of the best books of the year. The story is a retelling of Hamlet, but focuses on an american boy who is mute. He works at his family's farm where they train the finest dogs in the country. The strength of the writing really comes via the prose. It is unpretenious, simple and direct, but that's what makes it so good. It's honest writing and I never got a sense that the writer was trying to create literature, rather he simply wanted to tell a tale. That's the best kind of writing in my humble opinion. The book is a little long and could probably have been better had it lost around 100 pages. There's a section in the late first half that feels overly repetitive despite the beauty of the langugage. The other "problem" I had with the book was that I didn't really feel the author needed the Hamlet template. The story is good enough on its own. That being said, I spent a lot longer reading this novel than I do most and I enjoyed the week+ spent there. Edgar, Almondine and the other dogs all grew on me and I think over time, this book won't diminish as quickly as others. It's not a perfect book by any means, but it's a perfectly good story told with heart. I recommend it for those who enjoy good, literate Americana stories.
I finally finished this book! It took ages... I closed the hardcover thinking: What's the point? There were so many times I felt like the story kept going (it felt terribly strung out -- could tell the same story in fewer -- much fewer pages) and for what reason? I have been taught that every sentence should lead the reader forward and serve a purpose. I kept pulling myself out of the story and saying: 'Why?'
I am not sure why this has received so many rave reviews. The ending is terribly sad. I am not opposed to sad endings... I just didn't get it, I guess. I got distracted quite a bit while reading this book. The boy and the dogs were great characters, though. Almondine! She was my favorite of all...
And one reviewer brought up a great point: Why did the uncle do it?
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Where to begin with this one.....I honestly would never have read this book if I had not had other's trusted opinions egging me on. I don't normally read animal books, or books about nature and people in the wild, or extremely wordy novels that go on and on about trees and such.
This book was nothing like any of that.
Instead it was magnificently worded with adjectives I loved (I'm big on adjectives) and the characters had personalities that are even now still in my head. I cheered on Edgar, loved Almondine like I love my 16 year old cat, puzzled over Trudy, cried over Gar and even Page, wanted to hang out with Henry, and tried to figure out how bad or how good Claude really was. This book was truly wonderful.
Thank you to all of you that pushed me to read it.....I loved every page of it.
Edgar, a boy who can hear but not speak, lives with his mother, Trudy, his father, Gar, and his dog, Almondine, on a farm in rural Wisconsin. The story takes place mostly in the 1970’s when Edgar is a teen, with flashbacks to earlier times. Edgar’s family has bred and sold Sawtelle dogs, a fictional breed, for generations. These dogs are notable for their training, temperament, and intelligence. Edgar leads a happy life on the farm until his Uncle Claude arrives to stay with them while he gets his life back on track. Conflicts between Gar and Claude, which originate in their childhood years but are never fully explained, escalate until an episode occurs that forever changes the course of their lives.
Wroblewski’s writing is elegant, with numerous descriptive passages. He loosely employs elements from Shakespeare’s Hamlet, which notifies the reader to expect tragedy, and includes supernatural phenomena. It is a slow-burn that requires patience to get to the heart of the story. The author is quite skilled at portraying the relationships between humans and dogs, and even writes a few chapters from a dog’s perspective. This story is a thought-provoking tale of life’s unfairness, canine-human connections, loyalty, communication, fate, and nature. It could have used a bit more insight into the characters’ motivations and it includes a few lengthy topics that appear to be only tangentially related to the main storyline. It will appeal to readers that appreciate tragedies and don’t mind unresolved plot points. This novel is the author’s debut and it will be interesting to see what he tackles next.
I'm re-reading Edgar Sawtelle for a book discussion next month on Constant Reader.
The Story of Edgar Sawtelle is a masterfully crafted tale, written in exquisite language that sets Wroblewski apart as a story teller and writer in his own right. At first I wanted to compare him to Steinbeck, but he belongs in a league of his own. If no one has ever had a dog, after finishing The Story of Edgar Sawtelle, I would venture to say you'll feel as though you've had one all your life.
Don't be sucked in by the hype- it just isn't that good. The story really wanted to be a tragic work of art, but it ended up being a disjointed collection of thoughts. The writing was excellent. There were great descriptions of the dogs and the landscape, but the characters missed the mark entirely. The story of Henry was promising, however after all the build up we find out that inciting turmoil of the character is that he is "ordinary". How heartbreaking.
Like the Winchester mansion, the story was filled with unexplained oddities that just seemed to go nowhere. This is the second time I have bought a book that was lauded by Stephen King. I won't fall for that trick again =)
I was ready to love The Story of Edgar Sawtelle. It was one of the biggest publishing hits in 2008 - it captured the attention of writers such as Richard Russo and Stephen King. and was picked up by Oprah for her book club. Quite a feat for a debut novel!
David Wroblewski spent 10 years writing this bool - both a classic "boy and his dog" coming of age story and a sweeping saga of an American family set in rural northern Wisconsin in the 1950's. It's big - over 600 pages. It's ambitious and captivating, becoming increasingly more difficult to put down as the pages turn. With Edgar Sawtelle Wroblewski has created a protagonist who might have been fondly remembered with other famous personas of American literature in years to come - but at the same time his work is recognizably flawed, with the third act particularly to blame.
Edgar Sawtelle is a mute boy born to a family of dog breeders, who live at the outskirts of the Chequamegon forest in remote northern Wisconsin. The Sawtelle dogs are famous for being excellently bred and trained, and buyers seek them out because of their behavior, not looks. Wroblewski devotes a significant amount of pages to the techniques of dog training and the process itself - but he has a great descriptive talent and the novel never lags, pulling in even the readers who have no interest in the subject. Edgar is a wonderful protagonist - although mute, he speaks clearly through sign language to both dogs and humans alike. Wroblewski does a great job at developing Edgar's bond with the dogs - it's natural both for him and his protagonist.
But something is rotten in northern Wisconsin. By now it's no secret that The Story of Edgar Sawtelle is a more or less obvious retelling of Hamlet, which is probably it's greatest flaw. The shadow of Shakespeare's play hangs over it and never lets it become a sovereign work. And it's such a shame, as I can definitely sense a great novel in here - only it's not allowed to surface. In the end the characters, human and canine, are merely reduced to their respective Shakespearean parts - whether they want it, or not, and merely play their roles. More and more unanswered questions and wasted opportunities pile up, as the novel goes down in flames in the third act - predictably so, all too much. The Story of Edgar Sawtelle reads like a great novel that could have been - an opportunity stolen by the author who desperately clung to rewriting an already well known Shakespearean tragedy and abandons all the ideas which made his own work interesting in the first place.
This book is getting a lot of advance praise and will most certainly be a critical hit. I'm sure many people will adore this book, I am unfortunately not one of those people. The writing is beautiful, the story is ambitious, but I found the book utterly monotonous. I kept reading because I felt I should finish the book, not because I wanted to.
This epic story of a lonely boy, his loyal dog, and his family's betrayal at the hands of his bitter uncle will not only haunt me for the rest of the summer, but will cause all the other books I pick up this fall to pale in comparison, I suspect. Set in a rural 1970's Wisconsin and gracefully hung on the bones of Hamlet, the story explores the inner life of mute boy Edgar Sawtelle and his amazing invented breed of near- mind-reading dog, simply called the Sawtelle dogs. Edgar's life raising and training dogs on his family's farm is idyllic until his father dies suddenly and Edgar suspects his uncle was involved. Determined to bring the man to justice, Edgar makes several crucial decisions that will change the course of his life and the fate of the Sawtelle dogs. The ending is heart-breaking, yet inevitable and in keeping with the story. Though it occasionally meandered, I always wanted to keep reading to see what would happen next, and found the prose lyrical yet accessible. Destined to be a classic.
I think this is an interesting question. Why do we [occasionally:] like books even when we realize they’re deeply flawed? Now I’m not referring to books in fairly formulaic categories, such as romance fiction, where the author knows the book will be evaluated within that genre. I’m referring to fiction—such as Robert James Waller’s Bridges of Madison Country--which I hate beyond words—that aspires to be whatever serious literature actually is.
The Story of Edgar Sawtelle would fall in this category. Clearly, David Wroblewski intended to write a book of serious fiction. …Having Hamlet as its subtext is a big clue.
Yet, I liked this book. I enjoyed reading it. For me, it may have been the book equivalent of comfort food (soup or mashed potatoes) or movies I watch, such as The Legend of Bagger Vance, Finding Forrester, or August Rush that I know aren’t technically superior, but I like anyhow.
Yes, Lobstergirl, the book is often maudlin, mawkish, and overwritten. Yes, Eh!, the Hamlet bit doesn’t work, and for all I know, Almondine is Ophelia. And yes, Ruth, anthropomorphism almost never works—even if you’re a dog lover. The book is filled with loose ends, scenes that are absurd, and possibly the dimmest mother ever created. I probably liked the dog scenes as well as any of the others, but I'd also be hard put to explain the significance of the intricate dog training.
Factors that may affect our judgment—no matter how enlightened we might feel we are---are the conditions under which we read a book. I was in a book wallow when I read Sawtelle, and it got me through a tough time. Normally, I read books within the constant everyday scrim of interruption. In contrast, books I’ve read on airplanes (especially those experiencing delays), in hotel rooms when I’m hiding out from a dull conference, on vacations, or other rather distraction-free zones, often get a more favorable impression or at least of level of patience and attention I don’t always have time to give to books.
It’s a bit like those times when you start reading a book, and think, “This is boring the holy hell out of me.” Later—in a better mood? in a more receptive state? what? –you start the same book again, can’t put it down, and find it excellent.
It’s nice to think we use consistent criteria to judge books, but I wonder…
The Story of Edgar Sawtelle is a spellbinding tale of love and loss, and the ultimate search of finding oneself.
The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski is the most recent pick for Oprah's Book Club and it is a thoughtful literary masterpiece worthy of 5 stars. This is not your fast-paced thriller beach read; this is a novel you want to read carefully and allow to steep and absorb.
The characters are complexly drawn, three-dimensional and the story itself is highly emotional and inspiring. Edgar, the main protagonist is mute, yet his communication with his dog shows the astounding depths of the relationship between man and animal, and that language is much more than spoken words we hear.
The story had a strong emotional impact on me. Having recently lost my faithful dog of 13 years and later adding a new puppy to our household, it sure made me look at dogs differently. Although the story is fiction and the breed is fictional...well, who knows? Anything is possible, right?
I will admit the story is slow in parts, mainly because I think the author is striving to really paint a picture of the world he's created and the people who live in it. To me, the book's overall plot is a success and the reward for sticking through it all is satisfying. It's the kind of novel I personally prefer. One that makes me think while I'm reading it, and one that I think of long after I've put it down.
I don't expect it will be long before we see this novel made into a movie.
I lost sleep reading and thinking about this book. It's so descriptive I literally felt like a movie was playing out in my head. The storyline is multifaceted and complex. I kept thinking I should pay close attention to all the details because I was sure the author was weaving a complex tapestry that would unfold in a satisfying way. Instead I was left feeling absolutely devastated. There was no justice for Edgar and things literally burn up in the end. I enjoyed many aspects of this book but I'm left wondering about so many things. Why did Edgar's mother deserve all the tragedy? What was Claude's motivation as a murderer? What was the point of the dog breeding debate in the letters? What was Forte's significance and why did Edgar not follow the fortune teller's advice? ???...so much has left me wondering I could go on and on. The author is brilliant in his descriptions of time and place and the relationships between dogs and humans. I cared deeply for Edgar, his family, and the Sawtelle dogs. While a book doesn't have to a happy ending to satisfy me, I really wished this one had turned out better for the characters I came to know and love.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
5/5 for the faultless prose. Wroblewski writes with aplomb and could become a latter-day Steinbeck if he were to produce a gutsy, seminal story. Alas, 2/5 for this story, which plodded along and might only suit dog trainers and breeders. An amazing writer though!
"Let Hercules himself do what he may, / The cat will mew, and dog will have his day.”
Wroblewski's premiere novel is yet another take on Shakespeare's Hamlet albeit many of the Shakespearean counterparts are tail-wagging,four-legged beasts. The story is repleat with ghosts,Oedipal notions,and,of course,tragedy but despite these compelling elements, Edgar Sawtelle just didn't thrill me. At the outset I found the first chapter captivating and was taken by the author's vivid descriptions and elegant prose. However, Wroblewski's style did little to advance the plot and I soon found the narrative choppy, disjointed,a bit ponderous,over-written and much too long. In addition,I thought that the use of the supernatural was unnecessary and used merely as s convenient narrative device and,in spite of the fact that I often marvel at the innate wisdom of dogs, the over-humanization of the animals in this book is annoying and verges on being Kipplingesque which, in this case, is not a good thing.
Lucky for David Wroblewski that Oprah is a dog lover! I wonder how successful this novel would have been if Oprah had not picked it for her book club.