Sunday, July 19, 2009

David Wroblewki: The Story of Edgar Sawtelle

The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski is a pretty impressive first novel. In many ways it is not my kind of book, not the least of which is that it is an Oprah’s Book Club selection. That’s normally too artsy, emotional for me.

But I was attracted by the story line. Edgar Sawtelle is growing up on a farm in Northern Wisconsin where his family breeds dogs. Edgar was born mute, and communicates with his parents and the dogs through sign language. As things urn bad at home, Edgar runs off into the woods with three young dogs. While there, he has to learn to take responsibility for himself and his actions.

The dogs are pretty special. They are not any specific breed. They seem to be a cross of many dogs that demonstrate characteristics that Edgar’s grandfather or father like. The resulting dogs are very intelligent, and take training extremely well. They are very well socialized. The description of the rigorous training is impressive. Obviously, I did not work that hard training my golden Retriever.

Edgar’s uncle, Claude, returns to the farm where he grew up with Edgar’s father, Gar. They seem to have a very strained relationship. I’m not giving away more than the dust cover when I say that Gar dies. That’s pretty tough on Edgar, but things get worse when Claude starts showing romantic interest in Edgar’s mother, Trudy.

As the story unfolds, it’s always difficult to tell if we are getting the “narrator’s truth”, or an adolescent boy’s perspective. And every now and then we get a chapter from the perspective of one of the dogs.

The story is well written and captivating. Edgar and his dogs are entirely believable. It’s sometimes hard to decide if Claude is evil, but Edgar certainly believes he is.

Although The Story of Edgar Sawtelle is well written and convincing, it is far from a light hearted romp. It’s a good book, but I needed something fun when I was done reading it.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Dan Brown: Angels & Demons

Guest Review by Kit Bradley
July 8, 2009

I bought Dan Brown’s Angels & Demons a couple years ago but never got around to reading it. Now that the movie is out, I decided to read it right away. I’m now looking forward to seeing the movie and comparing it to the book.

As the story starts, some violently explosive “antimatter” has been stolen from CERN, a physics lab in Switzerland, and the scientist that created it is murdered. (Years ago I visited CERN and gave a product presentation to that famous research institution!)

Anyway, since the dead scientist was branded with a strange symbol, Robert Langdon, a famous symbologist, has been called to CERN to help discover who did it. It appears the Illuminati are responsible, but Robert, an expert in such things, thought the Illuminati faded out of existence a couple centuries ago.

The Illuminati are an ancient fellowship of scientists dating back to Galileo, and they have always been antagonistic to the Catholic Church, which they believe is anti-science. Faith and science are frequently contrasted throughout this book.

Well, we learn that the Illuminati are planning to use the antimatter to blow up the Vatican in less than 24 hours, so Robert and Vittoria Vetra (the daughter of the murdered scientist, his new side kick) jet off to Rome for the rest of the story.

Robert, Vittoria, and security people from the Vatican now chase all around Rome looking for clues that will help them catch up with the Illuminati “hassassin,” a really bad guy. Robert is very knowledgeable, but working under pressure he needs a high dosage of luck to succeed. Predictably he solves the puzzles, but not always fast enough. At first he is trying to save the lives of several cardinals, and later he is trying to save the whole Vatican. I don’t think he contributed very much, but at least he kept the action going. Vittoria didn’t add a lot either, although not surprisingly she got into a fix that required heroic action from Robert to save her.

By the way, I was never able to form a clear image of Robert Langdon in my imagination. I kept seeing Tom Hanks.

As the story nears its climax, we get a surprising twist that explains a lot of things, but the 24-hour deadline is fast approaching, and the Vatican is likely to be destroyed. How far will Dan Brown go in his story telling? Can he get away with killing high-level Catholics? Can he blow up the Vatican? You’ll have to read the book (or see the movie).

As thrillers go, Angels & Demons didn’t captivate me. Early in the book you could deduce and summarize the rest of the plot. At each mini-crisis the good guys and bad guys had predictable successes and/or failures. And I figured Dan Brown would never blow up the Vatican, so I thought I knew the ending. Of course there was that plot twist near the end…

Also the characters felt shallow and didn’t grow on me. Except the hassassin, who was very dedicated in his evilness.

Angels & Demons is a good story, somewhat more complex than I’ve summarized here, but it’s not a book I’ll be in a hurry to read again.