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The Story of Edgar Sawtelle

There has been quite a bit of talk about this novel, recently named a selection in the Oprahs Book Club, and for good reason. The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by first time novelist David Wroblewski incorporates all the elements of great storytelling with a modern take on Shakespeares Hamlet located on a family farm near Mellen, Wisconsin. Wroblewskis prose is vivid and highly lyrical as he describes both the American farm landscape and the Sawtelles lives. The reader is quickly hooked with a mysterious alleyway beginning and will soon find themselves fully mesmerized with the lives of the Sawtelle family and their canine companions. The Sawtelles breed and train a fictional type of dog that has come to be known as the Sawtelle dog. This breed is unique in many ways including that they are not pedigree, but instead when John Sawtelle, Edgars grandfather, looked to begin his aspiration to breed dogs, he chose canines whose physical and emotional characteristics he found to be exceptional. His quest was to create the ultimate canine companion, one whose compassion and ability to understand and communicate as well as physical characteristics could not be matched in any other breed. He continued to bring different bloodlines into the Sawtelle line, always inching closer to his ultimate goal. Edgar is a young man entering his teen years and the third generation of Sawtelles to join in this pursuit. Vocal communication and command with the dogs is not possible for Edgar, having been born without the ability to speak. The dogs remarkable ability to understand humans easily lends them to learn sign language in addition to the spoken commands they are taught by Edgars mother, Trudy, and father, Gar. The level of understanding between Edgar and the dogs is epitomized in his relationship with one dog, Almondine, who was a puppy when Edgar was a baby and has protected him his whole life. Almondines ability to anticipate Edgars wants and needs is amazing and will be familiar to any reader who has this type of connection to his or her own canines. When Edgars father dies suddenly, Edgar becomes convinced that his newly returned uncle, Claude, played a part in his death. His anger toward his uncle grows, as does his mothers affection toward him. Claude situates himself at the kennel in the roles that Edgars father took care of until Edgar can no longer stand to see him there. After a dramatic blowout, Edgar is driven into the woods beyond the family farm with three young dogs from a year old litter he was in charge of. Edgar must use his wits and all his strength to keep himself and the three dogs safe while always thinking about his mother, Almondine and the other Sawtelle dogs he has left behind. Edgars return brings a thrilling, page turning conclusion to The Story of Edgar Sawtelle. While profoundly about the relationship between humans and dogs, the novel is also about the relationships between people husband and wife, brother to brother, father and son. It is also about the nature of people and animals. Wroblewskis novel illustrates some of the most endearing and loving traits in people and animals as well as some of the most dreadful and unpleasant aspects of human nature. His understanding of the power of communication through both verbal and nonverbal cues and understanding is embedded in the narrative. The Story of Edgar Sawtelle is deeply moving. While any animal lover will immediately connect to this novel, the story transcends the recent trend in literature to write about dogs. There is so much more to this novel and hopefully more to come from this debut novelist. Theresa Studnicky has a Masters in English and can be reached at theresastudnicky@gmail.com. Her book reviews will appear regularly in the News Enterprise.

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