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Thursday, April 24, 2008

The Story of Edgar Sawtelle

Just a heads-up to anyone who might be interested: there's a good chance that this summer we will be offering the novel The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski as part of our First Editions Club. I managed to get my hands on an Advanced Reader Copy, so I thought I would share some thoughts on the novel.

First of all, this novel was a very well written story based on Shakespeare's Hamlet. That may ruin the ending for some of you, but in the coming months you're not going to be able to avoid hearing that about this book. What you may not hear is how much the opening half of the book reminded me of William Faulkner's novels, not so much in style, but in depth, setting and character.

Set in rural Wisconsin, The Story of Edgar Sawtelle is about a mute young boy who grows up with his parents breeding and training their own custom breed of dogs. The perfect rural setting filled with seemingly ideal, yet tragically flawed characters - one cannot help but draw parallels to some of Faulkner's works. As the story progresses, the reader begins to notice the Hamlet storyline more and more. Some of these elements are portrayed memorably, most notably the ghost of Hamlet's (or Edgar's) father, and the characters of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern (played in this novel by three intelligent dogs). However, the plot quickly bogs down on Edgar's flight from his home after he accidentally murders a family friend. The author, much like his character Edgar, seems to lose his way a bit for about 150 pages or so, with a rambling jaunt through back-country Wisconsin that doesn't serve to advance the plot very far.

However, Mr. Wroblewski really pulls it together for the final act, a gripping sequence of events resulting, as in Hamlet, in a sad yet satisfactory conclusion. This is a great debut novel from a talented writer, and while parts of the book seem drawn out, it is the combination of Faulkner's, Shakespeare's, and Mr. Wroblewski's voices that will stick with you; after you finish reading it, you'll realize there's nothing quite like this out on the market today.


Anonymous said...

I loved this book. The pastoral first half was a stark contrast to the second half, which I humorously thought of as "Hamlet goes to the dogs." It made me read Hamlet, which I'd somehow missed in high school and college. And it made me think about my relationship to my pug, who is no Sawtelle dog. But mostly I found myself reflecting on grief and loss and the profound implications of those emotions on the human condition.