I read all 576 pages of this novel in about two days.  It was that good.  And then I suffered the post-novel malaise, where I didn’t know what to do with my hands (without pages to leaf through) or my mind (without a thrilling fictional world to throw myself into).  I wandered the house in a daze, thinking about Edgar and Almondine and the dark Chequamegon forest.

I’m doing it again.  I’m getting ahead of myself.

The Story of Edgar Sawtelle is simply amazing.  Wait, I take that back.  It’s not simply anything.  Ron Charles’ review in The Washington Post Book World calls it “a big-hearted novel you can fall into, get lost in and finally emerge from reluctantly, a little surprised that the real world went on spinning while you were absorbed.”  It’s the best book I’ve read in a very long time. If you’ve read any of my reviews, you know I don’t go in for plot summary; if you’re too lazy to read the book yourself, it’s your loss, and I’m certainly not going to waste my time on you.  All I’ll say is there’s a mute boy, his family’s dog-breeding kennel, murder, intrigue, a journey through the wilderness, revelation — all described in beautiful, lyrical prose.

Wroblewski uses Shakespearean tragedies throughout, most noticeably Hamlet’s story, as a loose framework, but as Janet Maslin notes, “The Story of Edgar Sawtelle is by no means ‘Hamlet’ with hounds. This book’s brief encounters with prophecy and the supernatural have as much to do with [Stephen] King’s Maine as they do with Shakespeare’s Denmark. …  One of the great pleasures of The Story of Edgar Sawtelle is its free-roaming, unhurried progress, enlivened by the author’s inability to write anything but guilelessly captivating prose.  One of Mr. Wroblewski’s most impressive accomplishments here is to exert a strong, seemingly effortless gravitational pull.  The reader who has no interest in dogs, boys or Oedipal conflicts of the north woods of Wisconsin will nonetheless find these things irresistible.  Pick up this book and expect to feel very, very reluctant to put it down.”

Yes, this is an Oprah’s Book Club pick, but don’t judge it based on that.  In fact, if Oprah can get more people to read Wroblewski’s work, I suppose it’s a good thing.  There’s even a Q&A webcast with Wroblewski on her website, although the questions her readers ask aren’t particularly insightful (like, “Why the sad ending?”).

I’m not a crying girl.  I don’t weep at movies or Hallmark commercials or spilled milk.  But this book had me tearing up at the end, no joke.  Read it.

4 thoughts on “David Wroblewski’s The Story of Edgar Sawtelle

  1. I listened to it read by Richard Poe while I was painting my house. It is a very engrossing story, especially if you like dogs. The non-canine characters spend a lot of time doing practical things like fixing fences, so I couldn’t possibly have sat and read it knowing that my kitchen needed painting.

    My mind wandered a bit in places. There is a lot of detail. For instance, when Edgar is hungry, he gets up out of his chair, he goes to the fridge, he opens the fridge door, he moves the things around in the fridge to find a packet of cheese, then he pulls the cheese out and takes it over to the table. The thing in the fridge that makes everything cold clicks and whirrs. Then he sits down at the table and puts the cheese on his bread, which is white and thick.

    Wroblewski’s vocabulary is better than mine but half an hour would go by and another wall would be painted and the story would still be on the same bit of dialogue or description.

    But I enjoyed it. I think I will have to listen to the last hour again because I’m not sure what happened to Claude at the end. My mind sort of drifted. Maybe it was the paint fumes. Or maybe that ether was just so overpoweringly realistic.

  2. That’s funny. I’ve never listened to an audio book, so I’m not sure how my experience of the book would have changed. I definitely see what you are saying about the lengthy detail of Edgar Sawtelle. I’m an annoyingly fast reader, by which I mean I have a tendency to read too fast, skimming through particularly long expository sections to see what’s going to happen next. Then I have to go back and re-read because I’ve missed something, or I realize how beautiful the language was, and I want to let it sink in a bit more.

    I like the idea of getting things done while enjoying a good book, though. I’ll have to give it a try.

  3. Modern technology is wonderful for audio books. The first unabridged audio books I bought were Wuthering Heights and The Woman in White. The Woman in White cost £50, which was almost a weeks’ pay, and I needed a suitcase to carry it around in because there were so many cassettes. Now you can get audio books for about the same price as the printed version and carry a dozen around in your pocket on a little mp3 player. I am a very slow reader since I read at about the same pace as I would if I were reading out loud, and I read most paragraphs at least twice, so it is quicker for me to listen to a book than to read the printed version.

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