Sunday, November 30, 2008

David Wroblewski//THE STORY OF EDGAR SAWTELLE

Edgar lives with his mother and father on a hundred-acre piece of land in Wisconsin. They earn their living by breeding dogs. Edgar's father is passionate about finding intelligent dogs and crossing them into the line he's developed. Edgar is mute, but he can hear. He communicates with the dogs by signing. The dogs in this story are truly incredible.

Edgar's father dies, and it isn't until months pass that Edgar begins to suspect that his uncle had a role in the death. The uncle has insinuated his way into their lives, which Edgar deeply resents. He begins to see the ghost of his father, and believes he is being given messages from him.

When Edgar tries to prove his uncle's guilt through a scheme with the dogs, it backfires. He flees into the woods with three of the dogs he has raised and trained. They survive by pillaging food from abandoned cabins, until one day a generous and lonely man, Henry, takes them in. After staying with Henry a while, Edgar comes to realize he has to go back and face his mother, and the uncle he suspects of killing his father.

Up until this point in the book, I was enthralled. The prose is simply beautiful. Some may say that the setting descriptions go on too long, but not me. Every sentence is a work of art. I felt as if I was in the story. The author gives the reader a complete sensory experience. It's a character-driven book, the kind I gravitate toward, and the voice is sublime. I think the author took a course from Richard Russso? I have to check this. But if you like Russo's style, you will like Wroblewski's style. Very much.


**spoiler alert**


Edgar does come home, and after a series of unbelievable circumstances, ends up poisoned by his uncle and engulfed in flames in the barn. Ummm..... This is stupid. The dogs follow a mythic-dog creature (a character in the book) into the woods. I mean, give me a break. I don't mind that our 14 year old hero dies (okay, I do, but still), the ending was almost science fiction. The last twenty pages ruined it for me. The motivations of the uncle (Claude) were never really brought out. And there was a thread about ghosts and apparitions that I thought could've been more strongly developed.

I really liked this book, but the ending subtracts from the experience. Is it meant to be like a modern American Hamlet? I don't know. But that ending. Geesh!

5 comments:

moonrat said...

Ok, I skipped part of your review to avoid the spoilers, but otherwise I'm interested--everyone I've heard from has just been CRAZY about this book. The premise itself doesn't really appeal to me on its own, which is maybe why I've resisted up until now... I know you weren't entirely satisfied with the ending, but otherwise was the writing powerful enough to hold you?

ChrisEldin said...

Ask my husband. He couldn't pry the book from my hands.
:-)

I like stories about Americana, which is partly why I adore Richard Russo. But Russo is able to give us complete, fully-developed characters, flaws and all, and we still root for them.

This book, well, I felt the ending would've answered questions and address themes that were threaded throughout the book. That's why I felt disappointed. He could've used another thirty pages and given us a completely satisfying experience.

It's like this. You have the most gorgeous sandwich sitting on your plate. I mean, the bread is warm. The vegetables are freshly-picked. The cheese is from France and the butcher gave you the best meat. But you don't have a nice glass of wine to go with it. Or the chips. There are no chips or fries. You can still enjoy the sandwich for what it is, but don't you still feel cheated out of a great lunch?

I have more food metaphors...
:-)

Mary said...

This is one of my top ten books ever. The writing was incredible all the way through. I understand your comment about the ending but will respectfully disagree. Without spoiling anything, I think in part it was done to make the story mythic in its intentions, larger than life, the point at which the world ends and begins. The last paragraph is quite possibly the best last paragraph ever written, in my opinion. I've read the book twice and both times couldn't put it down. I was able to control the pace of my reading the second time since I knew what happened and the writing seemed even more flawless. Every time I pick up a new book, I have to force myself not to start Edgar again. When I think of the two or three books I would kill to have written, this is right up there.

Chris: I think Wroblewski earned the right to make every reader bring their own glass of wine to the table. :)

Mary said...

One more thought regarding this comment: Every sentence is a work of art. I felt as if I was in the story.

This has never happened to me before. I was halfway through the book. Put it down. Started getting my stuff together to leave for a meeting, focusing on which file to take, briefcase--business stuff, not at all thinking of Edgar. At least fifteen minutes passed. I picked up my keys and whistled for the dogs. There hasn't been a dog in my house for ten years. It was the weirdest, most awesome feeling, being in a story that completely. The guy can write.

Chris Eldin said...

LOL about bringing your own wine to the table.
Moonie, you have to read this so we can talk about the ending!!
Mary, I might read this again. I agreed with Stephen King's blurb that I wished it would go on....