Wednesday, May 13, 2009

The Story of Edgar Sawtelle

The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski
I picked up this novel after checking out the library's "Don't Miss" list and on the recommendation of one of my teacher pals.  Actually, she hadn't read it because she is a HUGE dog person and can't handle reading anything where a dog dies (sorry if I just spoiled it) anywhere in the novel, but she had heard wonderful things about this book.  I decided I needed to check it out and report back to her on whether or not she could handle reading the whole thing.  The verdict?  Lynn - READ THIS BOOK!!!
No small undertaking at nearly 600 pages, this book requires a bit more effort than your run-of-the-mill novel.  The payoff?  An extremely well-written, haunting story that sticks with you and leaves you feeling sad, yet enlightened.  The Story of Edgar Sawtelle is the story of a young boy, Edgar, who is born mute.  He grows up on his family's farm in northern Wisconsin (Woot! Woot!) where they run a dog kennel.  Now, this dog kennel is not the puppy mill that we have come to imagine in our modern days.  This is a high-class operation, an epicenter of selective breeding, rigorous training, and other practices that result in the creation of the "Sawtelle dog," a unique breed all its own.  Although Edgar is the clear protagonist, the reader also comes to know and love his dog, Almondine.  Unlike the dogs the family breeds for a living, Almondine is the house dog that has been by Edgar's side since the moment he was brought home as a newborn.  Even though Edgar cannot talk, Almondine understands him perfectly and the relationship between these two characters is nothing short of mesmerizing.
It is hard not to pick up on the Hamlet-like trajectory of this tale.  Edgar, son of Gar, is shaken to the core when his beloved father suddenly dies and his uncle, Claude, gradually infiltrates his father's place at the kennel and in his mother's arms.  Complete with a Polonius character named Page (honestly....the author made this easy!) and the appearance of a ghost saying "Remember me!" anyone who knows a hawk from a handsaw can understand the direction this plot will take.  What makes Wroblewski's novel so interesting is that it isn't just a Hamlet knock-off.  The Sawtelle dogs (and Almondine) become as interesting of characters as the humans and ghosts being dealt with are both on the farm and in the hearts of the players.  The eloquent use of language - ironic considering the main character is a mute who is obsessed with language - combined with a unique approach to using narration creates a very enjoyable novel.  This is one to take your time with, savor, and enjoy as long as possible.

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