The Story of Edgar Sawtelle
by David Wroblewski
Bond Street Books, 2008
Edgar Sawtelle hears perfectly, but he can’t speak. He uses sign to communicate with his family, a small circle of acquaintances, and the genetically gifted Sawtelle dogs in the kennel his family owns and operates. Edgar, his mother and father, and a wayward uncle live a story of playfulness, grief, manipulation, wandering in the wilderness, divination, hauntings, revenge, and plans gone awry.
Published in 2008, this was a first novel for David Wroblewski. An Oprah endorsement sent the book to the best sellers list and prompted a long list of enthusiastic endorsements from well-known authors. Oprah is now producing a movie based on the book.
Wroblewski is a skilled literary writer who crafts beautifully descriptive passages. He tells the story from the points of view of different characters, and he handles the transitions well. All the different voices ring true. The voice of Almondine, Edgar’s closest dog friend, is particularly moving.
Wroblewski is literary almost to a fault. Occasionally the writing veers into being so artsy as to be misunderstood: “During the night a white tide had swallowed the earth.” What happened? What’s kind of tide? He is evasive in action scenes when he should just tell us what happened:”The act itself took just an instant. When it was done he backed away . . .” What act? What happened? The reader has to pause for a second to try to figure things out and then keep reading to get context for what is going on.
Despite the beauty of the writing, I found reading the book to be a bit of a slog. My hardcover copy has 562 pages. The story would have been more effectively told in 462. Wroblewski repeats detailed descriptions of dog training sessions, over and over. He might have done this to symbolically represent the everyday, repetitive nature of dog training. It works symbolically, but it clogs the arteries of the story movement.
Wroblewski also leaves too many unanswered questions. He hints at events in the backgrounds of the main characters, but doesn’t clarify them enough to satisfy. A little mystery and room for speculation is good, but . . .
Often when a movie based on a book comes out, the book provides a fuller, richer version of the story. Readers of the book feel a little cheated by what has to be left out to fit the story into a movie format. In this case, the reverse is true. This story will benefit from being boiled down to its essence. And now that I’ve read the book, I look forward to seeing if the movie will hint at answers to some of those unanswered questions.
Posted on August 29, 2012, in Books I borrowed, Books that become movies, Fiction and tagged Davide Wroblewski, dog training, Edgar Sawtelle, literary fiction, Oprah Book Club. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.