Sunday, October 12, 2008

Listening to Dogs

Every once in awhile you read a book that you love, one that is very difficult to put down. “The Story of Edgar Sawtelle” by David Wroblewski is a book that I absolutely loved and will recommend it to everyone. This is David Wroblewski's first novel. It is the story of the Sawtelle family who has raised a fictitious breed of dogs on their Wisconsin property for three generations. Gar and Trudy are the young couple who have inherited the business from Gar’s father. After having a stillborn baby and a few miscarriages Trudy joyfully gives birth to Edgar, a beautiful, healthy baby boy. But Edgar has no voice. When Gar and Trudy realize that there is nothing that can be done for Edgar, they decide to learn sign language to give him a voice. What they find is that not only can Edgar communicate with them, but he has a special gift of communicating with the dogs they raise, especially Almondine. Trudy and Gar have more or less assigned Almondine to be Edgar’s watchful companion. The incredible bond that develops between Edgar and Almondine is beautifully portrayed by Mr. Wroblewski.

The life they have made, raising, caring for and training these special dogs is one that is very happy and satisfying for the Sawtelles. But the return of Gar’s younger brother, Claude, changes that. Gar tries to help Claude, letting him live with them and giving him work to do. Then Gar and Claude argue and Claude leaves. Not long after Claude leaves, Gar mysteriously collapes on the barn floor and Edgar cannot call for help. Grief consumes Edgar when Claude moves into the house and woos his mother. Edgar believes that Claude had something to do with Gar’s death. When he tries to prove it to his mother, something horrible happens and Edgar has to run away. He takes the three pups he has been training and enters the Chequamegon forest. With no food or shelter, Edgar and the three dogs find abandon cabins that dot the many lakes in the forest and fight for survival. It is a wonderful adventure that proves to be the turning point in Edgar’s coming of age. He makes the difficult decision to return home and to face what waits for him there.

The story is an epic, long and beautifully written. The author’s descriptions of the northern woods of Wisconsin are mesmerizing. Mr. Wroblewski has also borrowed much of the plot line from Shakespeare’s “Hamlet”. But, he has used his own imagination and beautiful prose to propel this wonderful story. The chapter where Almondine describes her quest to find Edgar when he ran away was heart wrenching, “She stood broadside in the gravel and turned her head and asked her question. Asked if it had seen her boy. Her essence. Her soul.”

The ending scenes are riveting. Every page is a joy to read and you will close this book with regret that it is finished.

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