The Story of Edgar Sawtelle, written by David Wroblewski is a beautiful allusion to Shakespeare’s Hamlet. It’s a love story, a story for animal lovers, and a tale of the intricate interweaving of family dynamics. As I read this book, my main thought was that I wish that I had this book while I was in high school, struggling to understand Hamlet. While it only loosely follows Shakespeare’s story line, Wroblewski deftly portrays the emotions and complex relationships that the Sawtelle family have with each other, and the dogs that they breed. In the author’s interview in the back of the book, he talked a little about how he used his childhood home as the backdrop for his novel. He uses powerful metaphors, really capturing the scene’s beauty and yet, casting a mist around it that almost makes it seem like a magical place.
One of the gems of this book is the story of the dogs, and how they play into Edgar’s life. I especially loved the relationship between Edgar and his best dog, Almondine. She is Edgar’s voice, his emotional compass, and his very best friend. She seems to be the eyes and ears of what is not said on the Sawtelle farm, giving a “voice” to the ghosts and mystery of the place. Wroblewski takes his time in the novel to explain the breeding and development of the extraordinary Sawtelle dogs, a dog that was actually bred for personality, not appearance. This provided a welcome place to dwell within the novel when it became too tragic. Like the characters in the novel, the dogs are the focus when all goes wrong. It binds the family together, for good and bad.
On the downside, this book is a tragedy. If you’ve read Hamlet, then you know that the book cannot possibly end happily. *If you haven’t read it, then skip this last bit.* However, unlike Shakespeare’s masterpiece, we get to know more about the mental state of Edgar when he dies. I felt a sense of serenity about him, and really felt happy for him. It was as though all the trouble and the drama were forgotten; he could be at peace with those he loved best.
This book may not be a beachside read, but it is a beautiful retelling of a timeless classic. It is definitely worth picking up.