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.