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The Story of Edgar Sawtelleby David Wroblewski
The perfect book to curl up with on a blustery afternoon, The Story of Edgar Sawtelle is a not-so-simple tale of a Wisconsin boy and his dogs. An eloquent exploration of both inner and outer landscapes, this novel will wind about your psyche and will haunt you long after the last page.
Synopses & Reviews
A riveting family saga, The Story of Edgar Sawtelle explores the deep and ancient alliance between humans and dogs, and the power of fate through one boy's epic journey into the wild.
Born mute, speaking only in sign, Edgar Sawtelle leads an idyllic life with his parents on their farm in remote northern Wisconsin. For generations, the Sawtelles have raised and trained a fictional breed of dog whose thoughtful companionship is epitomized by Almondine, Edgar's lifelong companion. But with the unexpected return of Claude, Edgar's uncle, turmoil consumes the Sawtelle's once-peaceful home. When Edgar's father dies suddenly, Claude insinuates himself into the life of the farm - and into Edgar's mother's affections.
Grief-stricken and bewildered, Edgar tries to prove Claude played a role in his father's death, but his plan backfires, spectacularly. Edgar flees into the vast wilderness lying beyond the farm. He comes of age in the wild, fighting for his survival and that of the three yearling dogs who follow him. But his need to face his father's murderer, and his devotion to the Sawtelle dogs, turn Edgar ever homeward.
Wroblewski is a master storyteller, and his breathtaking scenes - the elemental north woods, the sweep of seasons, an iconic American barn, a ghost made of falling rain - create a family saga that is at once a brilliantly inventive retelling of Hamlet, an exploration of the limits of language, and a compulsively readable modern classic.
Sit. Stay. Read. The dog days of summer are nigh, and here is a big-hearted novel you can fall into, get lost in and finally emerge from reluctantly, a little surprised that the real world went on spinning while you were absorbed. You haven't heard of the author. David Wroblewski is a 48-year-old software developer in Colorado, and this is his first novel. It's being released with... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review) the kind of hoopla once reserved for the publishing world's most established authors. No wonder: "The Story of Edgar Sawtelle" is an enormous but effortless read, trimmed down to the elements of a captivating story about a mute boy and his dogs. That sets off alarm bells, I know: Handicapped kids and pets can make a toxic mix of sentimentality. But Wroblewski writes with such grace and energy that Edgar Sawtelle never succumbs to that danger. Inspired improbably by the plot of Shakespeare's "Hamlet," this Midwestern tale manages to be both tender and suspenseful. The story takes place in a small Wisconsin town where Gar and Trudy Sawtelle happily raise and train their own unusual breed of dogs. The time is the early 1970s, but Wroblewski casts the setting in the sepia tones of an earlier period, as though cut off from the modern age. Their only child is an endearing boy named Edgar, who arrived 14 years ago after a string of miscarriages that almost crushed his mother's spirit. Edgar cannot speak or make any sounds, but he's otherwise healthy. To his grateful parents, "it didn't matter what in him was special and what ordinary. He was alive. ... Compared to that, silence was nothing." He quickly develops a rich facility with words and communicates in a mixture of standard American Sign Language and his family's own private gestures, "a language in which everything important could be said." And, to a remarkable extent, that discourse includes their animals. Some of the most engaging moments in the novel involve Edgar and his parents training the dogs with a technique that seems somehow tedious and magical: "They spent long hours doing crazywalking, stays, releases, shared-gaze drills ... watching, listening, diverting a dog's exuberance, not suppressing it." Wroblewski's parents once raised dogs in this area of Wisconsin, and every page here expresses his love and knowledge of these animals. Yet the precise nature of the Sawtelles' breed remains tantalizingly vague. They "show rare, unnameable talents," and we catch glimpses of the dogs in various colors and sizes, but what matters is their demeanor, their character, "the way they look at you." Though never actually personified, they express the subtler qualities we associate with being human: judgment, even whimsy and, above all, a kind of intelligent presence and individuality that's unnerving to strangers. "Some, for example, seemed capable of inspiration," Wroblewski writes. "A dog with a keen sense of humor would find ways to make jokes with you, and could be a joy to work with. Others were serious and contemplative." Into this idyllic setting slithers Edgar's smooth-talking uncle, Claude. You don't need to catch the "Hamlet" references, and if you do, that won't sap the novel's suspense. Wroblewski plays with Shakespeare's troubled prince the same way Jane Smiley used "King Lear" for "A Thousand Acres," borrowing the frame but not the details. Claude has been in the Navy, in Korea, and though he can be charming, he's "ferociously solitary." Edgar's father gives Claude a job and a place to stay while he gets back on his feet, but the situation becomes uncomfortable almost immediately: "Arguments arose, puzzling and disconcerting," Wroblewski writes. "Though the details differed each time, Edgar got the idea that Claude and his father had slipped without their knowing it into some irresistible rhythm of taunt and reply whose references were too subtle or too private to decipher." Eventually, those disagreements spark a murder that shatters everyone's life on the farm. Edgar's world comes "permanently unsprung," and he's forced to flee into the forests of Wisconsin with three young dogs no more ready to live on their own than he is. It's a long, dark journey for this little gang, a constant struggle against starvation and discovery set in a wilderness that Wroblewski describes in all its harrowing adventure and serendipity. But the real triumph is Edgar, this boy of rare sensitivity, virtue and resilience, carving out of air with his hands the rich language of his heart. Most of the story comes to us through a masterful, transparent voice: The author, the narrator, the pages — everything fades away as we're drawn into this engrossing tale. But there are also a few inventive variations. Once in a while, we see events from a dog's point of view, in a strangely humane but inhuman perspective. Another chapter is made up of Edgar's first memories as a baby and toddler, and there's a chilling section told from the murderer's perspective. As the thriller elements of the story rise and propel it along, Wroblewski laces in signs of mysticism, sometimes a little too portentous, but usually just right: The spooky old woman who runs a convenience store in town offers impromptu fortune-telling. In one of the novel's eeriest moments, Edgar is visited by "a water-shimmer" — a figure who appears only by displacing rain during a storm. And then there are those uncanny descriptions of the boy and his dogs: "the poised stillness of their bodies, and especially their gaze." These otherworldly touches move in and out of the novel, vanishing almost before you can focus on them. The final section gathers like a furious storm of hope and retribution that brings young Edgar to a destiny he doesn't deserve but never resists. It's a devastating finale, shocking though foretold, that transforms the story of this little family into something grand and unforgettable. Ron Charles is a senior editor of The Washington Post Book World. Send e-mail to charlesr(at symbol)washpost.com. Reviewed by Ron Charles, Washington Post Book World (Copyright 2006 Washington Post Book World Service/Washington Post Writers Group)
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"I doubt we'll see a finer literary debut this year than The Story of Edgar Sawtelle. David Wroblewski's got storytelling talent to burn and a big, generous heart to go with it." Richard Russo, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Empire Falls
"I flat-out loved The Story of Edgar Sawtelle.... Wonderful, mysterious, long and satisfying.... I don't re-read many books, because life is too short. I will be re-reading this one." Stephen King
"A stately, wonderfully written debut novel... [Wroblewski] takes an intense interest in his characters; takes pains to invest emotion and rough understanding in them; and sets them in motion with graceful language... a boon for dog lovers, and for fans of storytelling that eschews flash. Highly recommended." Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
"An excruciatingly captivating read... Ultimately liberating, though tragic and heart-wrenching, this book is unforgettable." Library Journal (starred review)
"Edgar Sawtelle is a boy without a voice, but his world, populated by the dogs his family breeds, is anything but silent. This is a remarkable story about the language of friendship — a language that transcends words." Dalia Sofer, bestselling author of The Septembers of Shiraz
"A good old-fashioned coming-of-age yarn. Grade: A" Entertainment Weekly
This riveting saga of an American family captures the deep and ancient alliance between humans and dogs, and the power of fate through one boy's epic journey into the wild.
An epic love story set in post-war New York, by the bestselling author of Winter's Tale.
Can love and honor conquer all?
Mark Helprins enchanting and sweeping novel springs from this deceptively simple question, and from the sight of a beautiful young woman, dressed in white, on the Staten Island Ferry, at the beginning of summer, 1946.
Postwar New York glows with energy. Harry Copeland, an elite paratrooper who fought behind enemy lines in Europe, has returned home to run the family business. Yet his life is upended by a single encounter with the young singer and heiress Catherine Thomas Hale, as they each fall for the other in an instant.
Harry and Catherine pursue one another in a romance played out in Broadway theaters, Long Island mansions, the offices of financiers, and the haunts of gangsters. Catherines choice of Harry over her longtime fiancé endangers Harrys livelihood and eventually threatens his life. In the end, it is Harrys extraordinary wartime experience that gives him the character and means to fight for Catherine, and risk everything.
Not since Winters Tale has Mark Helprin written such a magically inspiring saga. Entrancing in its lyricism, In Sunlight and in Shadow so powerfully draws you into New York at the dawn of the modern age that, as in a vivid dream, you will not want to leave.
In the summer of 1946, New York City pulses with energy. Harry Copeland, a World War II veteran, has returned home to run the family business. Yet his life is upended by a single encounter with the young singer and heiress Catherine Thomas Hale, as each falls for the other in an instant. They pursue one another in a romance played out in Broadway theaters, Long Island mansions, the offices of financiers, and the haunts of gangsters. Catherine’s choice of Harry over her longtime fiancé endangers Harry’s livelihood and threatens his life. In the end, Harry must summon the strength of his wartime experience to fight for Catherine, and risk everything.
“In its storytelling heft, its moral rectitude, the solemn magnificence of its writing and the splendor of its hymns to New York City, [In Sunlight and in Shadow] is a spiritual pendant to Winter’s Tale and every bit as extraordinary . . . Even the most stubbornly resistant readers will soon be disarmed by the nobility of the novel’s sentiments and seduced by the pure music of its prose.” — Wall Street Journal
About the Author
David Wroblewski grew up in rural Wisconsin, not far from the Chequamegon National Forest where The Story of Edgar Sawtelle is set. He earned his master's degree from the Warren Wilson MFA Program for Writers and now lives in Colorado with his partner, the writer Kimberly McClintock, and their dog, Lola. This is his first novel.
Table of Contents
Boat to St. George: May, 1946 1
Overlooking the Sea 12
Her Hands and the Way She Held Them 24
The Moon Rising over the East River 30
Catherines Song 45
In Production 55
And There She Was 68
What Youre Trained to Do 92
Distant Lights and Summer Wind 119
Changing Light 145
Billy and Evelyn 152
Conversation by the Sea 174
Gray and Green 188
The Abacus 196
The Glare of July 201
The Whole World 213
The Gift of a Clear Day 232
The Beach Road 241
Young Townsend Coombs 248
The Settee 261
The Economics of Hot Water 272
The Wake of the Crispin 284
Speechless and Adrift 310
The Evening Transcript 316
Lost Souls 333
James George Vanderlyn 353
Baucis and Philemon 360
Crossing the River 375
The Highlands 405
Glorious Summer 436
Counsel and Arms 536
Office in Madison Square 574
The Train from Milwaukee 585
Red Steel 597
A Passion of Kindness 603
The Letter 623
In the Arcade 652
Catherine Rising 670
The Horse and His Rider He Hath
Thrown into the Sea 694
In the Arms of an Angel 712
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