Thursday, November 13, 2008

The Story of Edgar Sawtelle

I just finished reading The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski. I have also decided never to read another book described as "The Great American Novel".

The Story of Edgar Sawtelle isn't bad. It was praised by the New York Times and received the coveted Oprah endorsement. It just isn't exceptional, which is what you hope for when you invest your time into almost 600 pages.

The title character, Edgar, is born mute, and can only communicate through sign-language. He and his mother and father eke out a living breeding and selling dogs in rural Wisconsin.

The Story of Edgar Sawtelle is an American adaptation of a famous play by Shakespeare. I won't say which one, but once you learn the characters' names (Claude, Trudy, Forte, etc.) you'll have no problem figuring it out. This is the biggest disappointment. Once you realize the basis for Wroblewski's story, you already know the ending, the EXACT ending, which is frustrating, especially after trudging through a lengthy and unnecessary adventure through the woods with Edgar and his dogs, only to find that you knew what was going to happen 300 pages ago.

Character development is also lacking. Maybe Wroblewski assumes that when we stumble on to the Shakespearean theme we'll understand on whom the characters were based, but none of the characters learn or grow.

There are also a few supernatural happenings (apart from the one necessary to Shakespeare) that seem to be forced into the plot. So forced I can't really even explain why they're there. Again, frustrating.

Animal lovers will be moved by the relationship between the Sawtelle family and their dogs, especially Edgar and his dog Almondine, and what little Edgar's character develops in the book is reflected in his unique ability to train the dogs without a voice.

The most intriguing part of the novel is Edgar's fathers near obsession with perfecting his breed of dog, which Edgar discovers while going through some of his father's old letters.

It is an enjoyable, but not a necessary read. It is definitely American, complete with woods and barns and tragedy, but the comparisons to Jack London are a little premature.


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