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.

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