David Wroblewski – The Story of Edgar Sawtelle

Caveat up front: This is a slightly edited version of the review I posted on Goodreads in the summer of 2009. While an older book, it was one that stayed with me and I wanted to include it here, as it shows another side of my reading habits ;)

Born mute, speaking only in sign, Edgar Sawtelle leads an idyllic life on his his family’s farm, helping raise and train a unique breed of dog. When tragedy strikes, Edgar flees into the vast wilderness of the Chequamegon forest with three yeqarling dogs as his only companions. Yet his need to confront the events he’s left behind – and his dedication to the Sawtelle dogs – turn Edgar ever homeward.

Where to start on The Story of Edgar Sawtelle? I gave it four stars on Goodreads because despite some irritation with the narrative and the fact that I completely hated the ending, I really enjoyed this book. The last two hundred pages I just couldn’t put it down.

So what did I like? I liked the premise; a mute boy rudely ejected from his loving, warm and idyllic cocoon of an existence, forced to find himself and his inner strength and returning to conquer his demons. And of course I loved Edgar’s interaction and instinctive rapport with the Sawtelle dogs. Especially during his stay in the forest with the three pups, their cohesiveness as a unit and loyalty to the ‘pack’ is depicted beautifully.

What I didn’t like was the way Edgar handled the Claude-situation, the way he locked out his mother and shared his feelings (and suspicions) only with Almondine. After the way Wroblewski etched out the bond between Edgar and his parents, it just didn’t sit right with me. Not even dealing with trauma and grief seemed a fitting explanation.

The almost mystical experiences Edgar has, which hand him clues and which enlighten him in a deus-ex-machina fashion, irked me. In the ‘real’ world one would doubt one’s sanity, but Edgar just accepts them. Had there been an obvious speculative slant to the novel it would not have seemed so out of place as it did now.

On the whole though, the (relational) miscommunications between Edgar and the world and the mystical experiences didn’t bother me as much as the ending does. I totally hated it. It did not bring the emotional satisfaction that a good ending of a story brings. And good doesn’t necessarily mean happy, but it does mean a catharsis of sorts, the fulfilling of a promise and the tying up off loose ends. This ending has none of that, it left me angry and astonished that it could end this way. And even though the last four pages gave a little warm fuzzy feeling of hope for the dogs, it didn’t make my grumpiness go away.

So overall, I did like this book and it was worth the read, but the ending left a sour aftertaste.