A contemporary retelling of Hamlet of stark and striking brilliance set on a farm in remote northern Wisconsin.
On a farm in remote northern Wisconsin the mute and brilliant Edgar Sawtelle leads an idyllic life with his parents Gar and Trudy. For generations, the Sawtelles have raised and trained a breed of dog whose thoughtful companionship is epitomised by Almodine, Edgar's lifelong companion. But when his beloved father mysteriously dies, Edgar blames himself, if only because his muteness left him unable to summon help. Grief-stricken and bewildered by his mother's desperate affair with her dead husband's brother, Edgar's world unravels one spring night when, in the falling rain, he sees his father's ghost. After a botched attempt to prove that his uncle orchestrated Gar's death, Edgar flees into the Chequamegon wilderness leading three yearling dogs. Yet his need to face his father's murderer, and his devotion to the Sawtelle dogs, turn Edgar ever homeward. When he returns, nothing is as he expects, and Edgar must choose between revenge or preserving his family legacy…
I flat-out loved The Story of Edgar Sawtelle, and spent twelve happy evenings immersed in the world David Wroblewski has created. As I neared the end, I kept finding excuses to put the book aside for a little, not because I didn't like it, but because I liked it too much; I didn't want it to end. Dog-lovers in particular will find themselves riveted by this story, because the canine world has never been explored with such imagination and emotional resonance. Yet in the end, this isn't a novel about dogs or heartland America–although it is a deeply American work ofl literature. It's a novel about the human heart, and the mysteries that live there, understood but impossible to articulate.
Yet in the person of Edgar Sawtelle, a mute boy who takes three of his dogs on a brave and dangerous odyssey, Wroblewski does articulate them, and splendidly. I closed the book with that regret readers feel only after experiencing the best stories: It's over, you think, and I won't read another one this good for a long, long time.
In truth, there's never been a book quite like The Story of Edgar Sawtelle. I thought of Hamlet when I was reading it (of course…and in this version, Ophelia turns out to be a dog named Almondine), and Watership Down, and The Night of the Hunter, and The Life of Pi - but halfway through, I put all comparisons aside and let it just be itself.
I'm pretty sure this book is going to be a bestseller, but unlike some, it deserves to be. It's also going to be the subject of a great many reading groups, and when the members take up Edgar, I think they will be apt to stick to the book and forget the neighborhood gossip. Wonderful, mysterious, long and satisfying: readers who pick up this novel are going to enter a richer world. I envy them the trip. I don't re-read many books, because life is too short. I will be re-reading this one.
About the author
David Wroblewski lives in Colorado with the poet Kimberly McClintock
A literary thriller with commercial legs, this stunning debut is bound to be a bestseller. In the backwoods of Wisconsin, the Sawtelle family Gar, Trudy and their young son, Edgar carry on the family business of breeding and training dogs. Edgar, born mute, has developed a special relationship and a unique means of communicating with Almondine, one of the Sawtelle dogs, a fictional breed distinguished by personality, temperament and the dogs' ability to intuit commands and to make decisions. Raising them is an arduous life, but a satisfying one for the family until Gar's brother, Claude, a mystifying mixture of charm and menace, arrives. When Gar unexpectedly dies, mute Edgar cannot summon help via the telephone. His guilt and grief give way to the realization that his father was murdered; here, the resemblance to Hamlet resonates. After another gut-wrenching tragedy, Edgar goes on the run, accompanied by three loyal dogs. His quest for safety and succor provides a classic coming-of-age story with an ironic twist. Sustained by a momentum that has the crushing inevitability of fate, the propulsive narrative will have readers sucked in all the way through the breathtaking final scenes.