Sunday, February 28, 2010

152 (2010 #17). The Story of Edgar Sawtelle

by David Wroblewski,
read by Richard Poe


This was my local book club's choice for February. It's a long book, made very pleasant though by the excellent reading by actor Richard Poe.

Edgar Sawtelle is born in northern Wisconsin on May 13, 1958 (assuming the date in the book is correct - it also says his mother has a stillborn baby in April 1958, so one of the dates is wrong). He has no voice, and learns to communicate with unique signs and later by writing. His parents, Gar & Trudy, run the family's dog-breeding business, well-trained animals that come to be known as "Sawtelle dogs." Edgar is involved in training them too, and in June 1972, he gets his own litter to work with from birth.

In January of the following year, Edgar finds his father dying on the floor of the kennel, and comes to suspect his uncle Claude, Gar's black-sheep brother, who is now insinuating himself into their lives. A terrible accident causes Edgar to run away with some of the dogs, and much of the book follows their time on the run. This was my favorite part (IV of V) of the book. Eventually Edgar returns home for a tragic conclusion to the story.

Wroblewski has said in interviews that the book intentionally is "juxtaposing" with Shakespeare's Hamlet; to "allow the stories to coincide where they could." Some of the parallels are obvious: Claude = Claudius, Trudy = Gertrude. Some are less so, particularly where dogs fill in roles from the play. Edgar (Prince Hamlet) even stages a demonstration with the dogs, resembling the play-within-the-play in Hamlet, that demonstrates to Claude that he knows how his father was killed. Wroblewski was also influenced by The Jungle Book and by the story of a real dog called Hachiko, both of which are mentioned in the book.

I think dog lovers will adore this book, as there is lots of detail about training methods and canine intelligence. Wroblewski has certainly done his research. The writing is lovely with lots of evocative descriptions. The first half of the book moves rather slowly, but it picks up in part III (on page 245 of 562 pages). I might have had trouble sticking with this book if I'd been reading it, but the audiobook made it much easier to follow. Pay attention to the prologue though!

[This audiobook was borrowed from my local public library, and goes back tomorrow.]

© Amanda Pape - 2010

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