“The Story of Edgar Sawtelle” – a brief review

January 14, 2009



My taste in prose has always tended toward non-fiction. And I’m much more in tune with work like Ted Kerasote’s excellent Merle’s Door: Lessons from a Freethinking Dog than I am with the more sentimental (and just plain dumb) Marley & Me. I mean, John Grogan and his wife are both journalists and yet they seem to have absolutely no interest in educating themselves about dog behavior or finding a suitable trainer for Marley.

Because I’m known in my neighborhood as a ‘dog person’ a friend pressed his copy of Edgar Sawtelle on me with much encouragement. I tried hard to subtract all the hype, the Oprah Book Club selection and the vehemently divisive reviews and forum comments on Amazon. I wanted to read it as if I knew nothing at all about it and had just stumbled across it.

As I read I grew immersed in the world David Wroblewski creates and found that at 560 pages, it went surprisingly quickly. There are insights into both canine and human behavior than anyone with much experience of either will recognize. As a Shakespeare fan, I liked the loose connection with Hamlet.

(Of course, we all know that the bumpkin Will of Stratford-on-Avon didn’t write a word of Shakespeare’s canon; the real author was Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford, but that’s a tale for another entry.) 

I loved the dog-centric nature of the book (esp. the parts with Almondine, who is the Ophelia counterpart) and enjoyed the writing style; it seemed one step removed from realism, slightly mythic. 

The ending, which seems to raise the most controversy among readers, didn’t strike me as out of tune with the rest of the work. Perhaps because, due to the parallels with Hamlet, I was expecting a downer ending.

After all, in the play all the major characters are dead by the final curtain having been run over by a truck. (“I could tell you more, but suddenly I am run over by a truck.”—Michael O’Donoghue, “How to Write Good”). 

So don’t let all the hype turn you off, as it nearly did me, Edgar Sawtelle is worth spending time with.


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