The Story of Edgar Sawtelle
by David Wroblewski
4 stars - emotionally draining, but a good read
ALR Green - Dogs are featured throughout, all of them loved and well cared for. Some moments which I chracterize as bittersweet, but very sensitive readers might find heartbreaking.
Here's a shortened version of the dust cover.
Edgar Sawtelle is born mute and only speaking in sign language. He lives an idyllic life with his parents on their farm in a remote part of Wisconsin. The story takes place in the 1960's and 70's. For two generations, Sawtelles have raised and trained a fictional breed of dog whose thoughtful companionship is epitomized by Almondine, Edgar's lifelong friend and ally. When Edgar's father dies suddenly, Edgar's Uncle joins the family with tumultuous consequences. At the age of 14, Edgar is forced to flee his home, along with three of the dogs he has raised and make his way on his own.
First off, that whole synopsis is a bit misleading. Yes, it all happens, but somehow I got the impression that most of the story would be about Edgar and his dogs surviving in the wild. That wasn't the case, but that's OK, still a good story.
Having a bit of trouble finding the words to express my feelings about the book. I liked the story a lot. Edgar is an interesting chap and his views of the world as he grows up are brought to life beautifully. The dogs are amazing. I really liked the idea of raising dogs until they are two years old before selling them to families. During that time, the Sawtelles engage in daily training that results in dogs that are well rounded, with a vast array of behaviors sure to please their fortunate forever families.
While I strongly recommend this book, it's one star shy of five. Why? Well, Edgar is really the only interesting character. Then there's the fact that I just wasn't left with anything to ponder in the end. Despite that fact that there are many surprising (yet plausible) twists, and emotionally overwhelming scenes, I would have expected to be left thinking and mulling in the end. Not the case. The only thing I was thinking was "Gosh, I need to spend more time training my dog."
That might sound like the book isn't so good, but it is. Here's a scene from early on in the story when Edgar was a baby and he and his companion dog, Almondine, are just getting to know each other.
The muzzle comes hunting again, tunnels beneath his blanket, below the farmers and pigs and chicks and cows dyed into that cotton world. His hand rises on fingers and spider-walks across the surprised farmyard residents to challenge the intruder. It becomes a bird, hovering before their eyes. Thumb and index finger squeeze the crinkled black nose. The pink of her tongue darts out but the bird flies away before Almondine can lick it. Her tail is switching harder now. Her body sways, her breath envelops him. He tugs the blackest whisker on her chin and this time her tongue catches the palm of his hand ever so slightly. He pitches to his side, rubs his hand across the blanket, blows a breath in her face. Her ears flick back. She stomps a foot. He blows again and she withdraws and bows and woofs, low in her chest, quiet and deep, the boom of an uncontainable heartbeat. Hearing it, he forgets and presses his face against the rails to see her, all of her, take her inside him with his eyes, and before he can move, she smears her tongue across his nose and forehead! He claps a hand to his face but it's too late - she's away, spinning, biting her tail, dancing in the moted sunlight that spills through the window glass.
See what I mean? That's so beautiful and loving. The scenes, both good and bad, are all described with the same magical prose.