A Novel by David Wroblewski
It’s amazing to me, the speed in which this novel rose to the top of the New York Times Bestseller List. It’s been on that list for 4 months and is currently listed as #1. Personally, I heard about this book on another’s blog… a book review blog! See? Our writings may pay-off to others and they just may pick up that book and have a wonderful, mental adventure because of a post written. Thank you, blogger!
Not long after I ordered it, I heard many things about the book popping up, seemingly everywhere! Then, Oprah made the announcement of it making her Book Club list. Now, it’s annointed and everyone’s reading it.
What amazes me about this book the most is the fact that this is Wroblewski’s first novel! If we could all be so lucky and talented! This man, however, put much time and research into the writing of this book. Another thing notable to mention is that he comes from the region that this novel’s setting takes place in. As such, he is able to beautifully describe the landscape of this story in great detail.
It seems like I’ve been on quite the “kick” of reading and reviewing novels that include the stories of animals. Recently, I reviewed The Art of Racing in the Rain and Dewey. It’s apparent to me that I just cannot say “no” to books that include the stories of our non-human best friends! I learned, however, much from this novel about the breeding and training of dogs… as it could be (man, would it be helpful on my pup, Claire!).
In short, this is a great book. It’s however, a long book… one that, at times, I couldn’t go to sleep and put it down… other times… it seemed like the endless story that I’d never reach the end of. However, as I finished it… I wanted to know what happened next… that’s always the sign, for me, of a book that I loved.
Title: The Story of Edgar Sawtelle, A Novel
Author: David Wroblewski
Publisher: Harper Collins
Pages (Hardback): 566
ISBN #: 978-0-06-137422-7
This book is the story of a boy and his dogs; well, that and the history of his family. The story is set in the region of rural Wisconsin adjacent to the Chequamegon National Forest. The story begins with the construction of Edgar’s home… how the house, barn and silo were built and by whom. We learn about how Edgar’s grandparents come to purchase the land and it’s accouterments and about their sons, Edgar (“Gar”) and Claude.
Eventually, the land and property is assumed by Gar and his wonderful wife, Trudy. They attempt to have a child and are faced with multiple miscarriages. Thereafter, they have what they believe to be a successful pregnancy, however the child was still born. However, they become blessed with a viable pregnancy and the birth of their son, Edgar (named after his father). Edgar’s greatest fan and best companion is the family dog, Almondine, who becomes my favorite character of the story. There’s only one hitch, Edgar is born with the inability to speak. He can hear, but cannot talk.
Due to Trudy and Gar’s unbounding love and desire for a child, they do everything in their power to raise Edgar with every possible ability to live a “normal,” productive life. They eventually teach Edgar to sign as his means of communicating with them and the dogs. Oh yes… the dogs. Well, their family business is the breeding of a very special line of German Shepherds. The “specialness” of their breeding line can only be understood in your reading of this novel in its entirety.
Edgar has a tremendous quest for learning and has an amazing vocabulary by age 3. He reads and reads… and is eventually given a dictionary to learn words… and, also to use for the proper naming of the pups reared on the farm. Trudy is the trainer of the dogs and has a gift that “The Dog Whisperer” would be envious of. Gar is the breeder, the researcher of blood-lines, hereditary factors, and the “x-factor” in certain dogs that should be bred into their line. Gar’s attention to detail and record-keeping is impeccable and detailed doesn’t adequately describe his desire to understand the science of his specialized breeding techniques.
Edgar’s responsibilities with the dogs grow as his age increases. He and his father share a remarkable bond with the dogs. Gar allows Edgar to raise a litter of pups from the actual birth of them. Unfortunately, Gar is unable to complete the process with Edgar due to an untimely death. There are many factors surrounding his death and the characters then involved in the storyline that I will leave to the reader.
Conflicts arise after Gar’s death that lead Edgar to running away from the farm. He takes along with him three of the pups from his litter. In his attempt to cross into Canadian territory and commence a new life as a young man, he learns the skills of survival and the duty and responsibility to ensure the lives of the dogs who travel alongside him. The tales of his journey remain undisclosed in this review and you will enjoy them in the reading of the novel.
Eventually, Edgar is faced with the duty to return home to his mother, for a number of reasons. It is there that the climax of the story is reached, along with its conclusion.
There is a mystical aspect to this work that kept me intrigued throughout. That inexplicable, intangible component of our spirit and our minds that accompanies us on our travels through life. It is this aspect of the book that, I believe, makes this book what it is.
My favorite part of the story is when Edgar meets a young girl at Mellen’s Diner. The excerpt from the book relating to this is:
“Mama says I should learn some of that from you, but I can’t. I tried, but things just come out of me! I said a person who can talk ought to talk. Don’t you think that’s true?”
“My gramma’s like me. Wanna know what my gramma says?”
Now he was sure he didn’t know this little girl, and he didn’t know her mother or grandmother, either. Yet, the more he looked at her face, the more familiar it became, as if he’d seen it often, but at a distance. He glanced back at the corner booth. Her family didn’t have one of their dogs-he would have recognized them at once if they had.
“Well, do you want to know or not?” the girl asked, stamping her foot on the linoleum.
He shrugged again. Okay. Sure.
“She says that before you were born, God told you a secret he didn’t want anyone else to know.”
He looked at her. There wasn’t much a person could say in response to a thing like that. He considered scribbling out a note to the little girl: I could just write it down. But he thought that was not her point, and she was probably too young to read anyway. He particularly wanted to tell her she didn’t have to whisper. People made mistakes like that-talking extra lour or getting nervous. But the little girl wasn’t nervous, not in the least. She acted as if she had known him his whole life.
She crooked her finger at him. He leaned down and she cupped her hand by his ear.
“You could tell me the secret,” she whispered. “I wouldn’t tell. I promise. Sometimes it makes it easier if just one other person knows.”
At first the little girl stood wide-eyed and placid. He sat back and looked at her. Then her eyes squinted into crescents and her lips drew together into an angry little circle.
“You don’t remember, do you?” she scolded, and now she wasn’t whispering. “You forgot!”
Edgar’s mother, on the far side of the dining room, stopped talking with Doctor Papineau and turned.
Don’t look at me, he signed. I don’t even know who she is.
Abruptly, the little girl turned and stormed off. She’d taken five of six steps before she whirled around to face him again. She was a terribly dramatic child, and Edgar had a glimpse of what it must be like in her house. She was probably staging little scenes like this all the time over eating her vegetables and watching television.
She scrunched up her face as though thinking through a knotty problem.
“Would you tell me if you did remember?” she asked, finally.
Her expression brightened into a smile. Her face was still oddly familiar, still impossible to place.
“Oh,” she said. “Okay!” Then she skipped away. Before she reached the corner booth her attention was caught by a baby in a high chair and she stopped to poke the baby and ask questions when it started to cry.
“What was that about?” Trudy said when she slipped back into the booth.
I don’t know.
“Maybe you have an admirer,” she said.
And for the third time since they’d walked into the diner, he could think of no better reply than a shrug.
The secret, from God, that was given to Edgar is revealed as the story develops and concludes. It is a secret that you will want to know!
As I have provided an excerpt from the book, this review, unlike my standard ones, will not include “favorite quotes.” The above stated section is my favorite.
Author’s Questions: (I’ve only chosen a few)
- How would Edgar’s story have been different if he had been born with a voice? How would Edgar himself have been different? Since Edgar can communicate perfectly well in sign most of the time, why should having a voice make any difference at all? His relationship with the dogs and method of communication would have been significantly different. His ability to speak with his mind, his eyes, and his hands differed from all other humans around him. In addition, his ability to communicate with his mother, without Claude understanding, was paramount to the story.
- At first glance, Henry Lamb seems an unlikely caretaker for a pair of Sawtelle dogs, yet Edgar feels that Tinder and Baboo will be safe with him. What is it about Henry that makes him fit? He understood the dogs through Edgar’s eyes. He came to love them and appreciate them in a way that could not be communicated by verbal language. Plus, the dogs chose Henry! Would it have been better if Edgar had placed the dogs with someone more experienced? No. Why doesn’t Edgar simply insist that all the dogs return home with him? Because the dogs belong with Henry… they make him extraordinary.
- In the final moments of the story, Essay must make a choice. What do you think she decides, and why? To live as Edgar taught her and to live true to her spirit. Do you think all the dogs will abide by her decision? Most.
On Sher’s “One to Ten Scale:”
I am giving this one a 9 out of 10. It was a very good book. I enjoyed it very much. I believe that many people will enjoy a considerable amount of aspects of this book.
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