Saturday, September 13, 2008

The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski

The Story of Edgar Sawtelle

Fiction, hardcover 562 pgs.

Bond Street Books

This is in many ways a "boy and his dog story" but I don't think anyone has plumbed these emotional depths of dogs in their relationship to humans in a novel. In doing so of course, he has also shown us aspects of human nature we don't see articulated every day either. Wroblewski writing is very good.

A young couple carries on the family business of dog breeding and training in the Wisconsin countryside. Afters years of difficulty Gar and Judy Sawtelle have a beloved baby boy who's perfect but mute. With no medical explanation they resign themselves to teaching him sign language. Edgar is as serious about the dog business as father and grandfather before him. He enjoys perusing old breeding records and his grandfather's letters about the business. At fourteen he is finally allowed to train the puppies, which he does with hand signals, and he's thrilled. But his father's brother arrives suddenly after years away from the family business and there is an ongoing tension between his father Gar and his uncle Claude that Edgar doesn't like or understand. Tragedy follows and Edgar is the only one who figures out who was responsible. In his frustration of trying to make his mother understand him, Edgar accidently causes a death and decides to run away until things blow over. He spends some weeks wandering with three of his favourite dogs while avoiding people, though he does take up for a while with a man willing to ask no questions of a mute runaway. His loneliness eventually drives him to return home where conflict is inevitable. A killer has to be faced down.

The tension is palpable at this point in the story and the writer knows how to ratchet it up a few notches. Confrontation ensues, first with an old family friend who has suspicions about what's going on. Then with his uncle Claude who has figured out that Edgar knows he's responsible for his father's death and is desperate to hide the evidence. Edgar's emotional state is well laid out for us from the beginning, through his actions and his often furious signing. The author is good at making us feel the boy's frustration when he is not understood or taken serious by adults. But the resolution will still take you by surprise. This is not simply a 'coming of age' story or a suspense either. This is adult fiction with a powerful emotional impact. As novels go today, it's one of a kind and you won't want to miss it. Four and a half stars out of five.

* If you're like me and don't like to know too much about a story before you read it, avoid reading detailed reviews and don't even read the blurbs on the cover. I call them "blabs" and have trained myself not to read them. Some of them give away too much for my liking.

Okay readers, have you read it? Are you going to? Is it on your wishlist? What are you currently reading? What are you going to read next?

What would you like to see reviewed? If it's on my Coming Reviews list in the sidebar or in my library I would be happy to oblige.

Don't forget to enter my giveaways for The Kings of Innocence by Michael Burns or Midwife of the Blue Ridge by Christine Blevins below if you'd like to read them.


  1. okay, i may just have to read it. i've had the galley sitting around since may. maybe time to bump it up to the top of the pile! :-)

  2. This one is definitely on my wishlist.

  3. Mudbound was one of my favourite books this year - I'll be curious to see your review...

  4. hey sandra!! thanks for visiting my blog!:) i came here through your comment link and have been browsing your blog for more than 20 mins now.. i am hooked!:) i am bookmarking your blog as well!:)

  5. My only thing is that I get too emotionally attached to animals (dogs espectially) in stories, so without giving too much away, should I read this one?

    Keep in mind, I walked out of a movie theater during some kind of hostage movie (I can't remember what it was - I've blocked it out) when the bad guy shot the family dog.

  6. This has made the Oprah Book Club. I got it tonight and its on my TBR list. The reviews sounded really good on this one.

  7. traci:
    Thank you for asking. That's part of what I'm here for. I will answer you by email.

  8. Dawn (sheIsTooFondOfBooks)September 26, 2008 at 9:50 a.m.

    I have a copy of this book heading my way!

    I like your term for the over-zealous back-of-the-book blurbs ... "blabs", that's fabulous!

  9. I don't like to read to many blurbs either. I had never heard of this one until Oprah announced it as her new selection. I admit that I enjoy her selections and have put this on hold at the library.

  10. This one's been on my wishlist for a while (I was hoping to get it for Christmas, but no such luck ;o)). But I still have a Christmas gift certificate for Amazon, so this will probably be one of those purchase (but my wishlist has many, many books on it, so who knows?).

    I'm like you with the blurbs (or "blabs," I love that ;o)), I don't usually read them either. I also have to admit to only skimming reviews. Even those of book bloggers. I basically read until I get a sense of whether the blogger likes it or not. If they do, I usually push the book up a bit on my wishlist. If they don't, I don't take the book off my list, but it doesn't get moved up either.

    Anyway, I'm glad you're enjoying the What an Animal challenge. I've easily surpassed the 6 books required, too. In fact, I'm now reading Dewey: The Small-Town Library Cat Who Touched the World and loving it. It is amazing the number of books that I read that have animals attached to them in some way. I never really noticed before I started the challenge ;o).

    Happy reading!

  11. Hi Sandra,

    I reviewed Edgar Sawtelle here:

    I've already added a link to your review to my post.



"25 Books That Caused A Commotion" (1) 4 1/2 stars (5) 4 stars (6) 5 stars (8) American literature (21) Asian American authors (1) Australian literature (3) book awards (10) book giveaways (23) book news (4) booking through thursday (3) Books Read This Week (2) Books TBR in 2009 (1) Burma (1) Cambodia (2) Canada (11) Canadian lit (3) Canadian literature (11) Columbian literature (1) Cover Attraction (3) doctors (1) education (1) elephants (1) England (3) English literature (5) environment (1) epistolary fiction (4) Ex-Cottagers in Love (1) family (3) fiction (2) five stars (2) forewords (1) four and a half stars (1) four stars (1) French literature (3) Friday Finds (6) Giller Prize (2) Giller Prize longlist (1) Giller Prize Winner 2008 (1) guest reviews (10) Hachette (2) haiku (4) Haiku Friday (5) historical fiction (6) humour (1) immigrants (1) Index of Books Reviewed (1) interview (1) Iraq (1) Israel (2) Israeli literature (1) It's Monday What are you reading this week? (2) Italian literature (1) Italy (1) Jerusalem (1) Jewish Book Month (3) Jewish Literature (6) Jewish Literature Challenge (2) Judaism (1) Latin American literature (1) Latin American Reading Challenge (1) library books (1) Library Loot (28) Library Loot July 22 (1) literary fiction (38) literature (20) literature in translation (1) love stories (2) Mailbox Monday (19) male friendship (1) marriage (1) medicine (1) memoir (1) music (1) Musing Mondays (2) My Favourite Reads (1) my work (1) mystery (1) Native Canadians (1) New Crayons (6) New Crayons July 5 (1) New England (1) New York (1) Nigeria (1) Nigerian literature (1) Nobel author (3) Nobel authors (1) Nobel Laureate (1) non-fiction (1) Norway (1) Norwegian literature (1) Nova Scotia (1) Orange Prize (2) ornithology (1) Orthodox Judaism (1) psychological fiction (3) Pulitzer Project (1) rating system (1) Read 'Em Yet? Wednesday (1) Read in 2008 (1) reading challenges (62) reading challenges 2010 (1) reviews (46) Russia (1) Russian literature (1) Salon Sunday (1) Scandinavian mystery (1) short stories (2) Show Me 5 Saturday (2) Spanish literature (2) Sunday Salon (3) The Complete Booker Reading Challenge (1) The Martel-Harper Challenge (1) The Sunday Salon (12) Thursday Tea (4) Toronto (1) translation (2) triplets (1) TSS (2) TSS June in Review (1) TSS March in Review (1) TSS May in Review (1) TSS Week in Review (2) Turkish literature (2) Venice (1) Waiting on Wednesday (8) Waiting on Wednesday July 15 (1) war stories (2) Weekly Geeks (11) What Are You Reading On Mondays? (10) What's On Your Nightstand? (8) winners (14) women writers (2) Wondrous Words (1) Wordless Wednesday (3) writers (1) WW II (2) Wyoming (1)


Blog Widget by LinkWithin