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Saturday, November 27, 2010

The Story of Edgar Sawtelle


I did not pay much attention to The Story of Edgar Sawtelle when it was released in 2008.  I knew it was a “dog story” and, frankly, novels about dogs or cats do not have much appeal to me.  So I did little more than thumb through the book once when I saw it on the shelf of my local bookstore.

Then, in December 2009, I attended the Texas Book Festival in Austin and sat in on a an interview session with the book’s author, David Wroblewski, during which the author discussed, among other topics, how he came to write the book.  The discussion was interesting – but not nearly as interesting as the reaction Mr. Wroblewski’s presence drew from the bulk of those in attendance that day.  The man was treated like a superstar author, and the questioners seemed to know the book by heart.

I was so impressed that I purchased a first edition copy of the book and had Wroblewski sign it for me.  Then I put it on the shelf at home for another year, finally “reading” an audio version of the book just this month. 

The Story of Edgar Sawtelle turns out to be quite a story (those familiar with Shakespeare’s Hamlet might recognize early on where it is headed) and my usual aversion to “dog stories” did not surface.  In fact, I particularly enjoyed those portions of the narrative told from the viewpoint of Almondine, the beloved Sawtelle dog that was Edgar’s protector from the day he was brought home from the hospital. 

This is the story of the Sawtelle family: Gar, Trudy, and their mute son, Edgar.  The Sawtelles have been breeding and training very special dogs for several decades and the dogs have become so special that they are known now simply as “Sawtelle dogs.”  However, despite the quality of the animals they produce, the Sawtelles are just barely surviving financially.  That their local veterinarian owns a share in the business, and does not charge for his services, is what allows them to continue at all.

David Wroblewski at Texas Book Festival Oct. 2009
But the Sawtelles are working at something they love, and 14-year-old Edgar is preparing himself to carry the business forward at least one more generation.  Then Gar’s brother, Claude, fresh from prison, comes home and things begin to change – for the worse, and in a way and to a degree that will surprise most readers right to the very end of the book.

I admire David Wroblewski’s courage to end the book the way he did, knowing that many readers will be very disappointed in that ending.  That ending, though, is a very logical one considering all that led up to it and the makeup of the book’s central characters. 

The audio version of The Story of Edgar Sawtelle is exceptionally well read, with narrator Richard Poe striking the perfect tone and cadence for the various characters for whom he reads.  It was a pleasure listening to Mr. Poe and, because of the half point I am adding for his narration, I am rating this one a solid four. 

Rated at: 4.0
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