Thursday, March 05, 2009

Last night I finished The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski.

The title character, Edgar Sawtelle, is a non-deaf mute with a special rapport for dogs, handed down from his father and grandfather before him. The book involves his family history, his youth and some tragic events that unfold after an uncle returns home. Mixed in with this is a lot about dog rearing/training and breeding as Edgar's family is involved in a long term project to raise dogs that are better companions. The actual goal is never fully explained though, one of many things that is not fully developed.


It is almost a cliche that in any novel involving a young person, that their parent(s) have to die in order to get the story moving, so when Edgar's father died, I wasn't surprised. But I quickly realized that it was something a little different - it was actually a re-telling/reflection of Hamlet, even down to many characters names. For example, his mother is Trudy (Gertrude) and his uncle is Claude (Claudius). There is even a Polonius and a Laertes equivalent, and a dog named Forte (Fortinbras) that shows up occasionally. The ending of this book isn't quite as apocalyptic as Hamlet, since the mother and Laertes characters survive, but everyone else perishes and one character is blinded.

But other than the plot similarities, nothing is really done with the Hamlet comparison. The main character does not share Hamlet's tragic flaw of indecision, for example, and there is no Ophelia character or other romantic interest. Similarly, there are a lot of pieces of the novel that just don't add up to much. There's a prophetic old woman, and a singular appearance by her daughter, but her prophecies don't illuminate anything. There are many mentions of a hippie commune that Edgar wants to visit but he never makes it there and his interest is never explained or explored. He goes on a long trek in the wilderness after accidentally causing the death of the local vet (i.e. Polonius) but nothing comes of that either.

In the end, it's a well told story and an enjoyable read, but it doesn't seem to add up to much beyond an enjoyable read.

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