August 15, 2010

The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski

Title : The Story of Edgar Sawtelle
Author : David Wroblewski
Reading Dates : 6 Aug - 10 Aug 2010
The Story of Edgar Sawtelle: A Novel (P.S.)
From Amazon :
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.

Book Review of The Story of Edgar Sawtelle.
I loved The Story of Edgar Sawtelle BUT … and there is a big BUT there; the ending left me highly dissatisfied.

The injustice of what happens at the end and some nagging questions had me wishing for a different conclusion to the story. After some earlier events in the book, I had expected recriminations but not in the way the author ends it all. Besides which no matter how I think on it, the reasoning behind Edgar's decision regarding his dogs is not made clear. All of which leaves me feeling as if the story is not done.

The other complain I have is the occasional switch to telling the story from Almondine's point of view. While seeing the tale from Edgar's lifelong canine companion is fascinating, these changes are sometimes jarring and disrupts the flow of the story. These occasions are rare however, and the additional insight we have into Almondine's thoughts make up for it. Were it not for that ending, I would already be thinking of re-reading it.

Despite that, there are still many reasons why I will pick it up again at some later time. The most important is the writing and pacing of the story. Take for example the prologue which lets the reader know early on that something terrible is going to happen. Yet a few chapters on and I was lulled into forgetfulness. This is done more than once so that each change in Edgar's circumstances is sudden and unexpected. Thus, by weaving whimsical anecdotes of the past into the present or turning the unusual into an accepted daily occurrence, the writer managed to create not only an enjoyable read but a suspenseful one.

Next are the characters in the book. Many of whom I couldn't help liking, either for themselves or the relationships they shared with others. John Sawtelle's determined machinations for the creation of the Sawtelle dogs is amusing and admirable. Gar and Trudy Sawtelle's refusal to tell the actual tale of how they met or settle on one single story, constantly regaling their son with different and fanciful accounts, is at once romantic and funny. And of course, the imaginative and introspective Edgar. One of my favourite anecdotes from the story is the time Trudy realizes that the reason her 5-year old son wanted a pocket watch for Christmas was to perform hypnotism. But she doesn't learn this or understand his reticence after receiving his gift until she stumbles over him attempting to hypnotize their dog a week later.

But that isn't all. The characters I enjoyed reading of in The Story of Edgar Sawtelle are not limited to the two legged variety. Here's an extract from the book to illustrate what I mean:
Baboo was the steadfast one. If Edgar told him to wait, Baboo waited like a stone laid upon the earth by God himself, pleased to know his job. That Baboo was charmingly literal had always been clear, but in the woods he was a pragmatist. He trotted along behind Edgar as he broke trail, sometimes sticking close at Edgar's heels, sometimes dropping back. But if more than a few yards came between them, Baboo crashed recklessly forward to close the gap.

Finally, there is the villain of the piece. Manipulative, intelligent and charming Claude. The fact that he manages to get the people around him to behave as he wants, even turning close friends or family against each other, without being blamed for it is frightening. That he can continue to do so with those who are on to him is doubly terrifying. Throughout the story, I kept holding my breath waiting for one of the Sawtelle dogs to reject him but they never do.

My conclusion : I'd recommend this to anyone who doesn't mind stories with ambiguous or sad endings.

Read another review on the book by :

At the end of The Story of Edgar Sawtelle is a list of David Wroblewski's picks of Canine Classics. Here are 3 books from that list that I'm interested in reading :

The Call of the WildSo Long, See You TomorrowThe Jungle Book (Unabridged Classics)


  1. I think I will give it a go, it sounds appealing to me, although I don't like feeling dissatisfaction at the end of a book

  2. I did not like this book at all. It was so not worth reading such a thick book.

  3. I tried reading this book when it first came out and couldn't get into it at all. Maybe I should give it a second try.

  4. Thanks for the review. I was wondering what this one may be like.


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