David Wroblewski’s The Story of Edgar Sawtelle

by Jess

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.