The Story of Edgar Sawtelle

Thoughts on David Wroblewski's The Story of Edgar Sawtelle

 I have a love-meh relationship with The Story of Edgar Sawtelle.  David Wroblewski's debut novel is a hefty one, both in word count and in ambition.  I was fascinated by the titular character, a young boy born without a voice who communicates through sign language and spends his days helping his mother and father with the family dog breeding business, the running of which was explained in such detail that I felt I could probably walk onto the farm and help without much training.  All of the characters, major and minor, felt real and fully realized.  Edgar's relationship with his dog, Almondine, was honest and heart-wrenching and it so completely reminded me of my relationship with my own childhood dog that I found myself choked up more than once.  Through Wroblewski's wonderful descriptions, I had no trouble imagining what the Sawtelle farm and its environs look like.  The story is excellent and its parallel to Hamlet, once I realized it, added an extra layer of enjoyment to my reading.

Despite these positives, I found myself struggling through the first half of the novel.  While I was enjoying the author's writing, I felt the story, while interesting, moved at a glacial pace.  I rarely read more than a few pages at a time before dozing off and after several months, I had only read half of the novel.  This discouraged me.  I found myself not enjoying my nightly read-in-bed and after much thought, I shelved the book.  Ever the optimist, though, I left the bookmark in place as I had promised myself to return to the story.  I read several other books, refreshed my love of reading and in a moment of inspiration and motivation, I dragged The Story of Edgar Sawtelle out of its place on my crowded bookcase, flipped it open to the bookmark that remained stoically in its position for months, and began reading again.

Either I originally gave up just a page too soon or I happened to be in the mood to read a story like this because I read the second half of the book in just over a week, a mere fraction of the time it took me to read the first half.  It helped that I had come to the realization that the story was a modern retelling of Hamlet.  Once that thought was in my head, I evaluated all that had come before and all that I read after with a renewed interest and zest.  It was a treat to recognize the Shakespeare-to-Wroblewski characters and situations.  Wroblewski wraps up the story in a satisfying whirlwind crescendo.  Ultimately, I enjoyed the book and would recommend it to anyone looking for a well-written American drama that they can stroll through at their own pace.

The Hobbit: Or There and Back Again

Thoughts on J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit

Tolkien's original cover design

Tolkien's original cover design

This is my second attempt at reading The Hobbit after extreme boredom with the story ended my initial effort when I was in college.  I was inspired to try again by the forthcoming film and by my participation in the 

Sword & Laser Book Club, of which The Hobbit is the December selection.  Having finished the book this time, I am pleased to add my name to the list of people who have read this classic, though I was terribly disappointed by the novel itself.

The main reason for my disappointment is the writing style of J.R.R. Tolkien, which I found meandering and far too whimsical for my taste.  I fully understand why this is such a beloved book, but I was not able to whip up even a fraction of enjoyment that my peers seem to have gained from the same experience.  I felt Tolkien lingered too long on uninteresting encounters and completely rushed through the scenes that I found myself enjoying.  The story itself is entertaining, but my enjoyment of it was marred by the writing style.  I feel badly about that, as though I've completely missed the point. 

I do appreciate what I feel is one of the lessons of The Hobbit, which is that with the right coalition of allies, you can overcome overwhelming hardship.  Tolkien learned this lesson personally as a soldier during World War I.  It is an important lesson, but I wonder if the children who were the original target audience of this story would see it.  Despite my disappointment, I am glad I read The Hobbit.  It has informed so much our current popular culture since its publication and will surely again when the films are released.

Song of Kali

Thoughts on Dan Simmons's Song of Kali

I've called myself a fan of Dan Simmons for several years and have a shelf dedicated to his novels. I recently realized, however, that I had really only read two of the books on that shelf:  Hyperion and The Terror, both of which are excellent. I decided to dig into his 1985 debut novel to broaden my experience with this author I claim to favor.

I enjoyed Song of Kali. Even in my limited experience, I've felt Simmons excels at character and place. The narrator feels like a real, flawed person who, despite some of his unpleasantness, is put into such an awful situation that I rooted for him to escape and hurt for him each time something bad happened. The characterization of Calcutta, India as oppressive and overwhelming in both size and environment, filthy, confusing, aggressive, unwelcoming firmly cemented my wish to never find myself there.

The story is fast-paced, and when it isn't exciting, it is at least interesting or intriguing. I would put this novel firmly in the category of "page turner". My only gripe with it is that the last few chapters caused the conclusion to drag and took some of the punch out of the climax. Otherwise, this book convinces me that my high esteem for Dan Simmons was not premature, but rather prescient.