June 5, 2020

“The Story of Edgar Sawtelle” by David Wroblewski

Lots of people think that the book our Jen selected this week, “The Story of Edgar Sawtelle,” by David Wroblewski, is very good, including Stephen King who noted he doesn’t re-read many books, but will be doing so with this one. Yet again Jen’s review has tickled our fancy too and we think we’ll also be reading it very shortly.

I had dinner a few weeks ago with a gentleman who said this was his favorite book.  My step-mother liked it but thought the middle a tad long-winded.  Stephen King said he,” flat out loved it.”  How could I resist?
Ultimately, I agree with them all. OK – done.

Kidding.The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski is a hell of a book.  Long, but good-long.  A young boy growing up in Wisconsin has to face some very serious issues.  His family has bred dogs for generations and lived an idyllic life until the black sheep (read total psycho) of the family returns.  Edgar, the boy, is in the teacup when the tempest arrives.
Born mute, his considerable intellect is torn asunder by death and deceit.  His Uncle Claude is the tempest and the Sawtelle dogs are the grounding rod.  Edgar must find himself using their strength of character and his own.
Wroblewski paints a truly involving portrait of the mind.  The outside world is beautiful: the postcard-perfect farm, the shamanistic woods, the magnificent barn … but the story is the human mind.  How to handle extreme adversity?  How to stay focused and self-reliant without capitulating to fear or self-loathing?
Edgar and the dogs are it.  We are with them.  My favorite personality—and its subsequent depictions and thoughts—is Almondine.  Edgar’s dog, and he is her boy, is so remarkably wonderful I am hard pressed to say how much I loved knowing her.  The chapters from her perspective are remarkable.  I do not look at my dog with the same eyes anymore. Almondine is a character who will resound within me forever.  More than Claude, more than Edgar, she is the touchstone for the story.  For me, at least.
As good as the plot is, the training of the dogs is fascinating as well.  These dogs are all so tangibly individual it is a pleasure to witness their actions.  They are as much individual characters as the humans.
When I was young, my great-grandfather had a barn like the Sawtelle’s.  It was magic and I would still be in it if it were possible.  It was a world unto itself and the sense of safety and promise is so well described by Wroblewski that I felt home.
The magic of this book is larger than a simple story.  The barn is not just a barn.  The dogs are not just dogs.  Edgar is not just a victim.  His story is the story of faith.  The story of redemption and come-uppance.  The story of love and magic.  It does get long-winded, but don’t forget how hard it must be to write such a book.

Read every word.  You will miss it when it’s over.


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