The Story of Edgar Sawtelle, David Wroblewski, HarperCollins Publishers, 2008, 562 pp
I put off reading this book, which came out in paperback in January, because I was suspicious of all the hype, then Oprah picked it and the one person I knew who read it did not like it one bit. All I can say now is that I missed a great read.
Edgar Sawtelle was born dumb, in the sense of unable to speak. He could hear just fine and was highly intelligent. His parents treasured him, as they had lost several babies due to miscarriage and still birth before he finally arrived. They bred dogs in rural Wisconsin, carrying on a dream of Edgar's grandfather to produce a special kind of dog: one that could take obedience and loyalty to a new level and become bonded to its owner in an almost spiritual way. By page 100, I knew this would be a rich and satisfying story.
Much has been made about the author's admission that the story is a rewriting of Shakespeare's "Hamlet." About the only good it did me to know that was to understand that I was reading a tragedy. I have failed to complete reading "Hamlet" or even get through a movie version. I understand that my credibility as a reader is severely compromised when I say that I do not enjoy Shakespeare, but there it is.
What I loved in this book was the writing, the exploration of the inner life of dogs, and especially the characters. I doubt that I will ever forget Edgar. The mysteriousness of this story held me fascinated for all those pages. The novel is an example of what I have always loved about long books. I used to go to the library and pick novels off the shelf based solely on how fat they were.
All of the fine topics of fiction are present: love, growing up, good versus evil, the loneliness of life and how to find and follow a purpose. Happiness is fleeting, as it is in life. Yet the storytelling is so stellar that I hardly noticed the pages going by and, as is usual in any really good long novel, I did not want it to end.
(The Story of Edgar Sawtelle is available in paperback at Once Upon A Time Bookstore.)