"The Story of Edgar Sawtelle"

The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski

If someone asked me what this book was about, my first instinct would be to say it's about dogs. In reality it's about Edgar Sawtelle, a mute boy who grows up on his father's farm where they raise and train the dogs that are known and respected as "Sawtelle Dogs", but the dogs are as important to the story as any of the human characters are. There are a lot of them that you get to know by name, and frankly sometimes I liked them a lot better than some of the humans. They are more reasonable and infinitely more loyal and dependable. Maybe we should let the dogs have the planet and get rid of the people. But, I digress....

First of all, I didn't understand the intent of the prologue. It did set a sinister tone and it introduced a poison substance that shows up later in the story, and maybe that's all it was intended to do, it just seemed a bit pointless to me.

The story is written in a level tone, without drama. Although dramatic situations arise, it is told without intensity or emotion, with a sort of resignation that though there is joy in life, nothing ever ends well and we simply fumble through till it's over. Things begin to go downhill from the beginning of the story and never turn around. If you need a happy ending, this one's not for you.

The characters are well developed and memorable. There were only a couple I really liked, other than the dogs. I liked a lot of them. There are three chapters written from the viewpoint of the dogs, a definite first for me but it works and it gives the dogs validity as characters.

The story takes us from before Edgar's birth to about 14 years of age. His life is simple and sweet, busy with training the dogs, until his uncle arrives on the scene and his father dies inexplicably. He has a good relationship with his mother but it becomes strained when she and the uncle get together. Resentment and anger escalate until Edgar is forced to leave home and hide in the forest. Several of the dogs run away with him and I found their time of wandering through the forest, trying to find enough water and food to stay alive and continuing with the dog's daily training, to be my favorite section of the book.

They leave the woods when one of the dogs is injured. They find a man, Henry, who helps the dog and offers Edgar a place to stay without too many questions asked. Henry is my favorite character. He is natural, generous, a bit jaded with wry humor. I'd like to read a book with Henry as the main character.

There are a couple of situations in the story that are, let's say, less than natural. Two different deceased persons appear and speak to Edgar. If you are easily spooked, you might not like that aspect of the book. I have yet to decide if we are meant to believe those appearances actually happened or if we are meant to doubt Edgar's mental stability. Either way, I didn't find it frightening, though I am not a fan of the paranormal in books.

After staying with Henry for a time, Edgar decides to go back the way he came and return home, hoping to find answers about his father's death. I won't say anymore about the story beyond that. You'll have to read it to learn the ending.

My favorite line in the entire book takes place when Edgar has to go to school and wait through the long hours till he can go home again and see if his dog has delivered her puppies. "Edgar boarded the school bus in despair. Ten thousand hours later, it ground to a halt in front of their driveway." I wish the author had made use of that sense of humour to lighten up other parts of the story just a little.

Edgar's last name was Sawtelle, a bit too much of a coincidence for me. Does it mean anything? Edgar couldn't speak, but he could hear and he could sign. Were his powers of observation heightened because of his inability? Is that how he came to know the truth of his father's death and would he not have figured it out otherwise? Am I reading too much into it?

I do recommend this book. It's well written, has great characters, good dialogue and an imaginative plot. It's a very good read, just don't expect everybody to live happily ever after.


David & Juanita Anum said...

It sounds very interesting, but ever so slightly pointless. A good rainy day book. I'll look it up, thanks.

Check out my blog;)

Christopher said...

I thought it was a lovely novel, and I gave it to my youngest daughter--she's kind of into this kind of story. Was it a 'rock-my-heart' novel? No, but it was well worth reading. Decent enough writing and pretty well-crafted plot. For me 3.5 stars out of five. I very much agreed with your review, Diane. Cheers! Chris

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