I embarked on reading Edgar, knowing only that it was a story about “a boy and his dog”. In fact, in the author’s own words: The Story of Edgar Sawtelle is a boy and his dog story for grownups. If I were looking for this book, the way I once did, that’s all I would want to know. Hide the dust jacket away. Don’t look at it again until you close the book for the last time. Read the blurbs afterward, like I do, when I need someone to talk to right away. A novel is a daydream machine. I wish for you a long, slow read, a two-week daydream. A double-life, with dogs.
I’m tempted to not say anything more about this book other than, “Go read it. Read it now,” but that’s kind of a cop out. I’m also tempted to just link to Stephen King’s four paragraphs about this novel, but that’s a cop out, too. Maybe all I need to say is that Stephen King wrote four paragraphs recommending a novel. A debut novel. I’m thinking that once Stephen King says he wants to reread your book – and is willing to be quoted as saying that – you have officially arrived.
But I digress, and one cannot just steal Mr. King’s words and be done with it.
Edgar Sawtelle, born inexplicably mute, lives an idyllic life on his parents’ farm in northern Wisconsin. They raise Sawtelle dogs, a breed first created by Edgar’s grandfather, and a mission carried on by Edgar’s father Gar, who matches the dogs for breeding and places the pups in their permanent homes, and his mother Trudy, who is tasked with training the unusual animals. Naming the pups falls to Edgar, a job he takes very seriously, carefully marking the kennel dictionary with notes on each dog. Edgar’s constant companion is Almondine, a Sawtelle dog herself, who recognizes her job in keeping Edgar safe from the moment he is born. (In fact, some of the best chapters were written from Almondine’s almost dream-like perspective.)
Edgar is about fifteen years old when his father’s brother returns to the farm, and shortly after that, tragedy strikes the Sawtelle family. The events set in motion that day lead to Edgar running off in the night with three of the yearling pups, and Edgar comes of age surviving on his own in the Wisconsin woods. He eventually returns to the farm at the conclusion of the story, again setting off a chain of events that will forever change the Sawtelle family – and the legacy of the Sawtelle dogs.
Amazon shows very mixed reviews about this debut novel, and I think that’s because the ending divided readers. Many felt as though the book was perfect, save for the ending, but I loved the conclusion. (In fact, this was my text to the friend who had given me the book: “Just finished Edgar. Loved it. Like, really loved it. The last few chapters were exquisitely done.”) Tied in to the worst-ending-in-the-world sentiment is also a heavy comparison to Hamlet, and that may be why readers were so divided on the ending. (Spoiler alert: it doesn’t quite end like Hamlet.) There are similarities to the play, to be sure, but Wroblewski also invokes many other classic stories; The Call of the Wild and Watership Down immediately spring to mind.
But I don’t like to read books like I’m reading for my junior year English class, dissecting the symbolism of each blade of grass. Like Wroblewski said, a novel is a daydream machine. And I prefer to daydream about Edgar as a story about a boy and his dog. That boy loved his dog, and that dog loved her boy, and sometimes, that’s all that needs to be said.