Saturday, February 06, 2010

The Story of Edgar Sawtelle

I loved The Story of Edgar Sawtelle. The author, David Wroblewski, has a rare gift for storytelling. It's captivating and profound, and he's such a fine writer, every sentence in this very long novel seemed really natural and right, to me.

The book is roughly based on Shakespeare's Hamlet, and you can track all the major characters and plot points between that play and this novel (which is fun for former students of English lit like me). It's definitely Shakespearean in its tragicness and epicness, but Edgard Sawtelle is completely different too. Someone who didn't know Hamlet at all would find this book no less remarkable for missing those connections.

I loved how the author tells the story from different characters' perspectives, including Edgar's companion dog, Almondine, who is as central a character in the book as any of his family. It's such a generous way of seeing things, and gives each character depth and complexity.

I was also completely smitten with all the stuff about dogs in Edgar Sawtelle -- and I am not a dog person at all. Edgar's family makes its way by raising an extraordinary (fictional) breed of dog. Much time is spent in this book on their care and training as well as dog biology and cognition. It's really fascinating, and the dogs themselves have amazing personalities. Almondine, the author tells us, is Edgar's "other" - she bears his soul. It literally says that. Their connection is a beautiful thing, and it's SO heartbreaking when that connection is inevitably -- it's based on a tragedy, after all -- broken.

Speaking of the end of this book, I put off finishing it because I wasn't ready to face it, nor was I ready to leave the wonderful world the author created. I wanted to focus and enjoy it and just sit with it in my head for a while. But the end is crushing. I read lots of reviews by people who were frustrated by that, but I think it would help to know going in. If you expect the Shakespearean tragedy rather than a justice-is-served happy ending, maybe you won't be disapointed. Anyway, The Story of Edgar Sawtelle is a GREAT read. I highly recommend it.