Sunday, July 06, 2008

The Story of Edgar Sawtelle

by David Wroblewski is getting a lot of good press. I think I first read about it in this USA Today review. This part:

Wroblewski, whose parents ran a kennel in Wisconsin, lets the dogs in his novel share in the narration, to a small degree. Sounds hokey, but it works remarkably well.

grabbed my attention. A dog as narrator? Cool! The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski is indeed a great read.

I saw a copy in the Barnes & Noble store at Wayne State University when I visited Detroit. Decided against spending money at a chain store. So I jumped at the chance to buy the only copy available at Rainbow Bookstore Cooperative in Madison, WI on our way back from Cleveland. I spent this weekend reading it much too quickly. I needed to now what would happen. The language and location are fascinating, but the plot drove me to read as fast as possible. Which means not savoring and enjoying it as much as I like.

There are allusions to Hamlet in this story of a young man whose father dies and whose mother takes up with his uncle. So I guess we have to hate Trudy (Gertude) for her stupidity/vulnerability. Which is a shame because the mother was a fascinating character until she got forced into the plotline (at least in my opinion) of Hamlet. I don't buy her being so stupid. The uncle, Claude (Claudius), is a smooth-talking manipulator who is very, very good at getting other people to believe the lies he tells. So I'll give the author a pass, I guess, although grudgingly!

To read this book, you need to be willing to engage in fantasy. Ghosts provide some of the most important information. Dogs are conveyors of wisdom and provide training. Storms arise to answer questions. A crazy old witch predicts the future.

What comes through in this telling of the Hamlet story, is how much burden is placed on the young boy, who is, in this re-telling, barely a teenager. He is burdened with too much knowledge and too little practice in using it. In fact, he is overburdened in every way. He can hear but cannot speak and his disability is the cause of some of the most wrenching events told in the story.

In the world today, we do not expect children to be able to solve the problems of adults as well as all the flora and fauna of their environment. Edgar does not have the luxury and I'm not sure the author cuts him enough slack for his failures.

And still, it's an awesome read. And I will read it again. I think you should too.