The Story of Edgar Sawtelle : A Book Club Review

Asian Fun:
I both loved and hated The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski. Had I known that the novel was loosely based on Hamlet prior to reading it, perhaps I could have braced myself better for the tragic ending. However, I was not aware of this and I'm one that gets completely enveloped into good books so that when it became blatantly clear, I still did not pick up on the clues making the ending a spiral of despair for me. More so than even the original Hamlet.

What made me love this book was that the story was one of pure beauty. I, as most people who know me know, am obsessed with dogs and so the eloquence and grace that Wroblewski writes about the dogs in this book was touching and truly beautiful. He creates an idyllic life at the beginning of the novel. Not perfect, of course Edgar Sawtelle is mute with no explanation and must live a life of somewhat isolation, if it weren't for his dogs. However, there is peace and love in the story that is both satisfying and enviable.

Of course this has to end, and so it does with the entrance of Clyde, the troubled uncle of Edgar. The events that follow lead Edgar deeper into isolation and his family down to a dark path. The ending, while again, could have been anticipated if I'd known any better, was too bitter for me to completely love the book. I didn't expect a big red bow or anything, but to give us something so beautiful and then to crush it into tiny little pieces, that just didn't leave me with a fuzzy feeling at the end of the book. I was crushed and did not feel any hope at the end. Sure, the dogs survived, but survived to what? What was their fate to be? Wandering around as stray dogs, the line ultimately forever lost? I suppose they were free and could do as they pleased, but in our world today, stray animals just don't survive like wild dogs used to. In the end it felt as if all was lost and only because of that I cannot give this really beautifully told story five stars.


Puerto Rican Pecan:

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.


Anonymous said...

Interesting sounding book, but I've become a real wuss about dark places after the bub. I just don't want to read/watch things that are too grim. Didn't have any problems before so I don't know what's changed. At least I'd be better prepared than you though, I guess.

mai wen said...

I've been the same recently as well. I've gotten into the bad habit that if I start to really get into a book I'll skim the ending just so I know if it ends happily or badly and then I'll go back and read through the book. My husband makes fun of me, but I just am not in the mood to deal with hopeless endings recently!!


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