David Wroblewski says, “ We write the stories we wish we could read…. The Story of Edgar Sawtelle came about because some time ago I wished I could read a novel about a boy and his dog…” Oh, that it would be so seemingly effortless for all of us to write stories as amazing, mystifying, magnificent and thoughtful as Wroblewski’s. I often think of an idea that would make a good story, but (alas) you don’t see my name on the bestseller list, or even published. Acknowledging that the author took over ten years to write this phenomenal novel is not surprising. But what he
delivers is a gift well worth that time.
The Story of Edgar Sawtelle is a tale of love, courage and dedication, a character study where some of the characters are dogs. The Sawtelle dogs are a mythical breed handed down through generations of the family to the time when the story begins.
Edgar Sawtelle, who was born mute and speaks by sign language, lives with his parents, Gar and Trudy Sawtelle, on a breeding farm in 1970’s northern Wisconsin. Edgar’s parents waited so long for a child; with Edgar’s birth, their life seems perfect and complete. The dogs they raise are well-trained and carefully bred, known for their dignified disposition and the instinctive ability to predict and act upon their trainer’s command. Gar is painstakingly careful about keeping records and interviewing prospective owners before placing one of his Sawtelle pups. One of Edgar’s many tasks is the naming of the new dogs when they are born. Edgar’s faithful companion from his birth is a Sawtelle named Almondine.
The unconditional love between trainers and dogs is central to the story’s plot. Readers will share in the very real feelings that Edgar has for his dogs, especially Almondine, through Wroblewski’s elegant prose mastery. His descriptions of the settings leave you breathless as you visualize the farm and the barn, the change of seasons, the Chequamegon Forest, and the characters themselves, both human and canine.
When Edgar’s peaceful life is disrupted by the “homecoming” of his Uncle Claude, things change quickly. Edgar’s father dies suddenly and what appears to others to be a natural cause of death does not appear that way to Edgar. Edgar is almost sure of what he SAW and finds out, but not sure how or if he should TELL his mother or anyone else. The story turns to one of Edgar versus Claude when Edgar tries to prove the role Claude played in his father’s death. Instead, the plan goes awry, and he flees into the forest with three of the dogs he has been training since puppyhood. Edgar’s survival and adventures while away from home are vividly described with such brilliant writing that even the supernatural incidents in the story seem real and logical.
Some question the ending of the story, but if you are completely involved with the characters and the story, you will understand the ending and its implications. This is a novel that should be read carefully and thoroughly. Relish the imagery, the relationships, the settings, and all that go into making David Wroblewski’s The Story of Edgar Sawtelle, one of the finest novels in a long while.