The Story of Edgar Sawtelle

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Overview

"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 friend and ally. But with the unexpected return of Claude, Edgar's paternal uncle, turmoil consumes the Sawtelles' 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."
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Overview

"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 friend and ally. But with the unexpected return of Claude, Edgar's paternal uncle, turmoil consumes the Sawtelles' 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. Forced to flee into the vast wilderness lying beyond the farm, Edgar 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.
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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers
What is the essence of a dog? What is the meaning of a life? Edgar Sawtelle seeks to answer these questions in Wroblewski's startlingly compelling, original, and yes, classic epic -- a truly American novel guaranteed to win countless hearts.

Edgar lives a hard yet satisfying life breeding and training dogs with his parents on their northern Wisconsin farm. They're continuing the work of Edgar's grandfather, who created a new breed of dog -- bred not for work or appearance but to embody the ineffable qualities of companionship and wisdom. Edgar has a mysterious bond with the Sawtelle dogs. Like them, he can hear and see and comprehend, but he cannot speak. He talks to the dogs in signs, and they respond to him.

Edgar's idyll on the farm is interrupted with the appearance of his uncle, who resents Edgar's father, and wants to usurp him. Evoking Hamlet, the biblical story of Cain and Abel, and Homer's Odyssey to tell the story of Edgar's harrowing journey from the safety of his home through the Chequamegon Forest and back again with his extraordinary canine companions, Wroblewski depicts a world -- not so different from our own -- where dogs teach their human counterparts far more than humans teach them, and together, they find meaning. (Fall 2008 Selection)
Ron Charles
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 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 Washington Post
Publishers Weekly

This sprawling epic tale clocks in at 22 hours, but is well worth the time spent. Wroblewski captivates with a story of a young boy and his dogs cast into the wilderness after his father is murdered in rural Wisconsin. Richard Poe reads with a firm voice, both gripping and personal, fitting for this particular tale. Poe brings the story to life with such ease that listeners will forget they aren't actually reading the book. Steady pacing, realistic and imaginative characters and Poe's skilled performance make this a recording that (even at its length) listeners will want to hear again. This is an instant classic that will resonate for years to come. An Ecco hardcover (Reviews, Feb. 18).(Sept.)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
VOYA - Sarah Hill
The Sawtelles from northern Wisconsin are known throughout the United States for their amazingly behaved dogs. The family has bred dogs for generations, and Edgar Sawtelle's parents run the kennel. Edgar is mute, but that fact does not hurt him at all. His parents read his sign language, and Edgar trains the dogs well. But the idyllic world of Edgar and his parents is shattered when Edgar's Uncle Claude returns to the farm. Claude is trouble but manages to worm his way into the family when Edgar's father unexpectedly passes away. Something is not right with Claude, and the suspense builds as Edgar builds his case against his uncle. An unfortunate accident sends Edgar into hiding in the woods, with only his dogs to keep him company. The ending is shocking-this reviewer had to reread it-but helps create a breathtaking novel. This adult novel is chock full of beautiful writing-almost too much, creating a lengthy read. But young adults will appreciate the soft, comprehensive setting of the dog farm and Edgar's communication with the animals. Almondine, the family dog, helped raise Edgar and spoke for him when Edgar could not. Some chapters are from her point-of-view and are absolutely stunning. Wroblewski builds a setting where readers feel at home and creates a family for which they truly care. Although not a novel for immature readers, more advanced young adults will value the quiet subtlety and shocking ending and appreciate the details of training the work dogs. Reviewer: Sarah Hill
Library Journal

Wroblewski's lyrical debut novel, about a young boy who runs away from home and into the Wisconsin backwoods with the loyal dogs he helped raise, is now available as an audio production, and Recorded Books couldn't have done a better job with it. Narrating is actor Richard Poe (The Sportswriter), whose readings are consistently strong, and whose deep, rumbling, assonant voice perfectly suits this psychologically complex and ultimately heartwarming material. An essential and rewarding purchase for all libraries. [With tracks every three minutes for bookmarking; audio clip available through www.audible.com; the Ecco hc received a starred review, LJ3/15/08; was both an Oprah's Book Club and a Barnes & Noble Discover selection; and was ranked #1 on the New York Times bestsellers list.-Ed.]
—Raya Kuzyk

Kirkus Reviews
A stately, wonderfully written debut novel that incorporates a few of the great archetypes: a disabled but resourceful young man, a potential Clytemnestra of a mom and a faithful dog. Writing to such formulas, with concomitant omniscience and world-weariness, has long been the stuff of writing workshops. Wroblewski is the product of one such place, but he seems to have forgotten much of what he learned there: He 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 (and, in eponymous young Edgar's case, sign language). At the heart of the book is a pup from an extremely rare breed, thanks to a family interest in Mendelian genetics; so rare is Almondine, indeed, that she finds ways to communicate with Edgar that no other dog and human, at least in literature, have yet worked out. Edgar may be voiceless, but he is capable of expressing sorrow and rage when his father suddenly dies, and Edgar decides that his father's brother, who has been spending a great deal of time with Edgar's mother, is responsible for the crime. That's an appropriately tragic setup, and Edgar finds himself exiled to the bleak wintry woods-though not alone, for he is now the alpha of his own very special pack. The story takes Jungle Book-ish turns: "He blinked at the excess moonlight in the clearing and clapped for the dogs. High in the crown of a charred tree, an owl covered its dished face, and one branch down, three small replicas followed. Baboo came at once. Tinder had begun pushing into the tall grass and he turned and trotted back." It resolves, however, in ways that will satisfy grown-up readers. The novelsucceeds admirably in telling its story from a dog's-eye view that finds the human world very strange indeed. An auspicious debut: a boon for dog lovers, and for fans of storytelling that eschews flash. Highly recommended. Agent: Eleanor Jackson/InkWell Management
Capital Times (Madison
“This luminescent story has the kind of sprawling, wide-lens focus that readers think of when they talk about the so-called ‘great American novel.’”
Stephen King
“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.”
Richard Russo
“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.”
Margot Livesey
“In this beautifully written novel, David Wroblewski creates a remarkable hero who lives in a world populated as much by dogs as by humans, governed as much by the past as by the present. The Story of Edgar Sawtelle is a passionate, absorbing and deeply surprising debut.”
Dalia Sofer
“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.”
Mark Doty
“The Story of Edgar Sawtelle is a wooly, unlikely, daring book, and wildly satisfying.”
Capital Times (Madison))
"This luminescent story has the kind of sprawling, wide-lens focus that readers think of when they talk about the so-called ‘great American novel.’"
Capital Times (Madison)
"This luminescent story has the kind of sprawling, wide-lens focus that readers think of when they talk about the so-called ‘great American novel.’"
From the Publisher
"I flat-out loved The Story of Edgar Sawtelle. . . . It’s a novel about the human heart, and the mysteries that live there, understood but impossible to articulate. . . . I closed the book with that regret readers feel only after experiencing the best stories: It’s over, you think, and I won’t read another one this good for a long, long time. . . . There’s never been a book quite like The Story of Edgar Sawtelle. I thought of Hamlet . . . and Watership Down, and The Night of the Hunter, and The Life of Pi–but halfway through, I put all comparisons aside and let it just be itself. . . . Wonderful, mysterious, long and satisfying: readers who pick up this novel are going to enter a richer world. I envy them the trip. I don’t re-read many books, because life is too short. I will be re-reading this one."
—Stephen King

"I doubt we'll see a finer literary debut this year. . . . David Wroblewski’s got storytelling talent to burn and a big, generous heart to go with it."
—Richard Russo

"Don’t let the book’s massive size fool you: This is a good old-fashioned coming-of-age yarn.Grade: A"
Entertainment Weekly

"…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...grand and unforgettable."
Washington Post Book World

"The most enchanting debut novel of the summer....a great, big, mesmerizing read, audaciously envisioned as classic Americana...One of the great pleasures of The Story of Edgar Sawtelle is its free-roaming, unhurried progress, enlivened by the author’s inability to write anything but guilelessly captivating prose."
New York Times

"Whether you read for the beauty of language or for the intricacies of plot, you will easily fall in love with David Wroblewski’s generous, almost transcendentally lovely debut novel...the scope of this book, its psychological insight and lyrical mastery, make it one of the best novels of the year...."
—O Magazine

"In this beautifully written novel, David Wroblewski creates a remarkable hero who lives in a world populated as much by dogs as by humans, governed as much by the past as by the present. The Story of Edgar Sawtelle is a passionate, absorbing and deeply surprising debut."
—Margot Livesey, author of The House on Fortune Street

"A literary thriller with commercial legs, this stunning debut is bound to be a bestseller."
Publishers Weekly (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

"The Story of Edgar Sawtelle is a wooly, unlikely, daring book, and wildly satisfying."
—Mark Doty, New York Times bestselling author of Dog Years

"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)

"The Great American Novel is something like a unicorn — rare and wonderful, and maybe no more than just a notion. Yet every few years or so, we trip across some semblance of one.... [an] extraordinary debut."
Elle

"The author’s spellbinding first novel…is nearly impossible to put down."
Kirkus Reviews, First Fiction Special

Elle
The Great American Novel is something like a unicorn—rare and wonderful, and maybe no more than just a notion. Yet every few years or so, we trip across some semblance of one.... [an] extraordinary debut.
Elle
The Great American Novel is something like a unicorn—rare and wonderful, and maybe no more than just a notion. Yet every few years or so, we trip across some semblance of one.... [an] extraordinary debut.
O Magazine
“Whether you read for the beauty of language or for the intricacies of plot, you will easily fall in love with David Wroblewski’s generous, almost transcendentally lovely debut novel...the scope of this book, its psychological insight and lyrical mastery, make it one of the best novels of the year....”
Pittsburgh Tribune
“…a stunningly well-written novel…”
Entertainment Weekly
Don’t let the book’s massive size fool you: This is a good old-fashioned coming-of-age yarn. Grade: A
Washington Post Book World
“…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...grand and unforgettable.”
Denver Post
“A stunning first novel…a ranging story that is part coming of age, part mystery and part tragedy on the order of Hamlet…Wroblewski executes with elan, building an addicting tale peopled by fully dimensional characters. He carries the reader, with authority and confidence, on a thought-provoking ride.”
New York Times
“The most enchanting debut novel of the summer....a great, big, mesmerizing read, audaciously envisioned as classic Americana...One of the great pleasures of The Story of Edgar Sawtelle is its free-roaming, unhurried progress, enlivened by the author’s inability to write anything but guilelessly captivating prose.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780061374234
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 9/8/2009
  • Series: Oprah's Book Club Series
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 608
  • Sales rank: 72,478
  • Product dimensions: 8.06 (w) x 5.66 (h) x 0.28 (d)

Meet the Author

David Wroblewski

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.

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Read an Excerpt

I

In the year 1919, Edgar’s grandfather, who was born with an extra share of whimsy, bought their land and all the buildings on it from a man he’d never met, a man named Schultz, who in his turn had walked away from a logging team half a decade earlier after seeing the chains on a fully loaded timber sled let go. Twenty tons of rolling maple buried a man where Schultz had stood the moment before. As he helped unpile logs to extract the wretched man’s remains, Schultz remembered a pretty parcel of land he’d spied north and west of Mellen. The morning he signed the papers he rode one of his ponies along the logging road to his new property and picked out a spot in a clearing below a hill and by nightfall a workable pole stable stood on that ground. The next day he fetched the other pony and filled a yoked cart with supplies and the three of them walked back to his crude homestead, Schultz on foot, reins in hand, and the ponies in harness behind as they drew the cart along and listened to the creak of the dry axle. For the first few months he and the ponies slept side by side in the pole shed and quite often in his dreams Schultz heard the snap when the chains on that load of maple broke. He tried his best to make a living there as a dairy farmer. In the five years he worked the land, he cleared one twenty-five-acre field and drained another, and he used the lumber from the trees he cut to build an outhouse, a barn, and a house, in that order. So that he wouldn’t need to go outside to tote water, he dug his well in the hole that would become the basement of the house. He helped raise barns all the way from Tannery Town to Park Falls so there’d be plenty of help when his time came. And day and night he pulled stumps. That first year he raked and harrowed the south field a dozen times until even his ponies seemed tired of it. He stacked rocks at the edges of the fields in long humped piles and burned stumps in bonfires that could be seen all the way from Popcorn Corners—the closest town, if you called that a town—and even Mellen. He managed to build a small stone-and-concrete silo taller than the barn, but he never got around to capping it. He mixed milk and linseed oil and rust and blood and used the concoction to paint the barn and outhouse red. In the south field he planted hay, and in the west, corn, because the west field was wet and the corn would grow faster there. During his last summer on the farm he even hired two men from town. But when autumn was on the horizon, something happened—no one knew just what—and he took a meager early harvest, auctioned off his livestock and farm implements, and moved away, all in the space of a few weeks. At the time, John Sawtelle was traveling up north with no thought or intention of buying a farm. In fact, he’d put his fishing tackle into the Kissel and told Mary, his wife, he was delivering a puppy to a man he’d met on his last trip. Which was true, as far as it went. What he didn’t mention was that he carried a spare collar in his pocket. THAT SPRING THEIR DOG, Violet, who was good but wild-hearted, had dug a hole under the fence when she was in heat and run the streets with romance on her mind. They’d ended up chasing a litter of seven around the backyard. He could have given all the pups away to strangers, and he suspected he was going to have to, but the thing was, he liked having those pups around. Liked it in a primal, obsessive way. Violet was the first dog he’d ever owned, and the pups were the first pups he’d ever spent time with, and they yapped and chewed on his shoelaces and looked him in the eye. At night he found himself listening to records and sitting on the grass behind the house and teaching the pups odd little tricks they soon forgot while he and Mary talked. They were newlyweds, or almost. They sat there for hours and hours, and it was the finest time so far in his life. On those nights, he felt connected to something ancient and important that he couldn’t name. But he didn’t like the idea of a stranger neglecting one of Vi’s pups. The best thing would be if he could place them all in the neighborhood so he could keep tabs on them, watch them grow up, even if from a distance. Surely there were half a dozen kids within an easy walk who wanted a dog. People might think it peculiar, but they wouldn’t mind if he asked to see the pups once in while. Then he and a buddy had gone up to the Chequamegon, a long drive but worth it for the fishing. Plus, the Anti-Saloon League hadn’t yet penetrated the north woods, and wasn’t likely to, which was another thing he admired about the area. They’d stopped at The Hollow, in Mellen, and ordered a beer, and as they talked a man walked in followed by a dog, a big dog, gray and white with brown patches, some mix of husky and shepherd or something of that kind, a deep-chested beast with a regal bearing and a joyful, jaunty carriage. Every person in the bar seemed to know the dog, who trotted around greeting the patrons. “That’s a fine looking animal,” John Sawtelle remarked, watching it work the crowd for peanuts and jerky. He offered to buy the dog’s owner a beer for the pleasure of an introduction. “Name’s Captain,” the man said, flagging down the bartender to collect. With beer in hand he gave a quick whistle and the dog trotted over. “Cappy, say hello to the man.” Captain looked up. He lifted a paw to shake. That he was a massive dog was the first thing that impressed Edgar’s grandfather. The second thing was less tangible—something about his eyes, the way the dog met his gaze. And, gripping Captain’s paw, John Sawtelle was visited by an idea. A vision. He’d spent so much time with pups lately he imagined Captain himself as a pup. Then he thought about Vi—who was the best dog he’d ever known until then—and about Captain and Vi combined into one dog, one pup, which was a crazy thought because he had far too many dogs on his hands already. He released Captain’s paw and the dog trotted off and he turned back to the bar and tried to put that vision out of his mind by asking where to find muskie. They weren’t hitting out on Clam Lake. And there were so many little lakes around. The next morning, they drove back into town for breakfast. The diner was situated across the street from the Mellen town hall, a large squarish building with an unlikely looking cupola facing the road. In front stood a white, three-tiered drinking fountain with one bowl at person height, another lower, for horses, and a small dish near the ground whose purpose was not immediately clear. They were about to walk into the diner when a dog rounded the corner and trotted nonchalantly past. It was Captain. He was moving in a strangely light-footed way for such a solidly constructed dog, lifting and dropping his paws as if suspended by invisible strings and merely paddling along for steering. Edgar’s grandfather stopped in the diner’s doorway and watched. When Captain reached the front of the town hall, he veered to the fountain and lapped from the bowl nearest the ground. “Come on,” his buddy said. “I’m starving.” From along the alley beside the town hall came another dog, trailing a half-dozen pups behind. She and Captain performed an elaborate sashay, sniffing backsides and pressing noses into ruffs, while the pups bumbled about their feet. Captain bent to the little ones and shoved his nose under their bellies and one by one rolled them. Then he dashed down the street and turned and barked. The pups scrambled after him. In a few minutes, he’d coaxed them back to the fountain, spinning around in circles with the youngsters in hot pursuit while the mother dog stretched out on the lawn and watched, panting. A woman in an apron walked out the door of the diner, squeezed past the two men, and looked on. “That’s Captain and his lady,” she said. “They’ve been meeting there with the kids every morning for the last week. Ever since Violet’s babies got old enough to get around.” “Whose babies?” Edgar’s grandfather said. “Why, Violet’s.” The woman looked at him as if he were an idiot. “The mama dog. That dog right there.” “I’ve got a dog named Violet,” he said. “And she has a litter about that age right this moment back home.” “Well, what do you know,” the woman said, without the slightest note of interest. “I mean, don’t you think that’s sort of a coincidence? That I’d run into a dog with my own dog’s name, and with a litter the same age?” “I couldn’t say. Could be that sort of thing happens all the time.” “Here’s a coincidence happens every morning,” his buddy interjected. “I wake up, I get hungry, I eat breakfast. Amazing.” “You go ahead,” John Sawtelle said. “I’m not all that hungry anyway.” And with that, he stepped into the dusty street and crossed to the town hall. WHEN HE FINALLY SAT DOWN for breakfast, the waitress appeared at their table with coffee. “If you’re so interested in those pups, Billy might sell you one,” she said. “He can’t hardly give ’em away, there’s so many dogs around here.” “Who’s Billy?” She turned and gestured in the direction of the sit-down counter. There, on one of the stools, sat Captain’s owner, drinking a cup of coffee and reading the Sentinel. Edgar’s grandfather invited the man to join them. When they were seated, he asked Billy if the pups were indeed his. “Some of them,” Billy said. “Cappy got old Violet in a fix. I’ve got to find a place for half the litter. But what I really think I’ll do is keep ’em. Cap dotes on ’em, and ever since my Scout ran off last summer I’ve only had the one dog. He gets lonely.” Edgar’s grandfather explained about his own litter, and about Vi, ex- panding on her qualities, and then he offered to trade a pup for a pup. He told Billy he could have the pick of Vi’s litter, and furthermore could pick which of Captain’s litter he’d trade for, though a male was preferable if it was all the same. Then he thought for a moment and revised his equest: he’d take the smartest pup Billy was willing to part with, and he didn’t care if it was male or female. “Isn’t the idea to reduce the total number of dogs at your place?” his buddy said. “I said I’d find the pups a home. That’s not exactly the same thing.” “I don’t think Mary is going to see it that way. Just a guess there.” Billy sipped his coffee and suggested that, while interested, he had reservations about traveling practically the length of Wisconsin just to pick out a pup. Their table was near the big front window and, from there, John Sawtelle could see Captain and his offspring rolling around on the grass. He watched them awhile, then turned to Billy and promised he’d pick out the best of Vi’s litter and drive it up—male or female, Billy’s choice. And if Billy didn’t like it, then no trade, and that was a fair deal. Which was how John Sawtelle found himself driving to Mellen that September with a pup in a box and a fishing rod in the back seat, whistling “Shine On, Harvest Moon.” He’d already decided to name the new pup Gus if the name fit. Billy and Captain took to Vi’s pup at once. The two men walked into Billy’s backyard to discuss the merits of each of the pups in Captain’s litter and after a while one came bumbling over and that decided things. John Sawtelle put the spare collar on the pup and they spent the afternoon parked by a lake, shore fishing. Gus ate bits of sunfish roasted on a stick and they slept there in front of a fire, tethered collar to belt by a length of string. The next day, before heading home, Edgar’s grandfather thought he’d drive around a bit. The area was an interesting mix: the logged-off parts were ugly as sin, but the pretty parts were especially pretty. Like the falls. And some of the farm country to the west. Most especially, the hilly woods north of town. Besides, there were few things he liked better than steering the Kissel along those old back roads. Late in the morning he found himself navigating along a heavily washboarded dirt road. The limbs of the trees meshed overhead. Left and right, thick underbrush obscured everything farther than twenty yards into the woods. When the road finally topped out at a clearing, he was presented with a view of the Penokee range rolling out to the west, and an unbroken emerald forest stretching to the north—all the way, it seemed, to the granite rim of Lake Superior. At the bottom of the hill stood a little white farmhouse and a gigantic red barn. A milk house was huddled up near the front of the barn. An untopped stone silo stood behind. By the road, a crudely lettered sign read, “For Sale.” He pulled into the rutted drive. He parked and got out and peered through the living room windows. No one was home. The house looked barely finished inside. He stomped through the fields with Gus in his arms and when he got back he plunked himself down on the running board of the Kissel and watched the autumn clouds soar above. John Sawtelle was a tremendous reader and letter writer. He especially loved newspapers from faraway cities. He’d recently happened across an article describing a man named Gregor Mendel—a Czechoslovakian monk, of all things—who had done some very interesting experiments with peas. Had demonstrated, for starters, that he could predict how the offspring of his plants would look—the colors of their flowers and so on. Mendelism, this was being called: the scientific study of heredity. The article had dwelt upon the stupendous implications for the breeding of livestock. Edgar’s grandfather had been so fascinated that he’d gone to the library and located a book on Mendel and read it cover to cover. What he’d learned occupied his mind in odd moments. He thought back on the vision (if he could call it that) that had descended upon him as he shook Captain’s paw at The Hollow. It was one of those rare days when everything in a person’s life feels connected. He was twenty-five years old, but over the course of the last year his hair had turned steely gray. The same thing had happened to his grandfather, yet his father was edging up on seventy with a jet black mane. Nothing of the kind had happened to either of his elder brothers, though one was bald as an egg. Nowadays when John Sawtelle looked into the mirror he felt a little like a Mendelian pea himself. He sat in the sun and watched Gus, thick-legged and clumsy, pin a grasshopper to the ground, mouth it, then shake his head with disgust and lick his chops. He’d begun smothering the hopper with the side of his neck when he suddenly noticed Edgar’s grandfather looking on, heels set in the dirt driveway, toes pointed skyward. The pup bucked in mock surprise, as if he’d never seen this man before. He scrambled forward to investigate, twice going tail over teakettle as he closed the gap. It was, John Sawtelle thought, a lovely little place. Explaining Gus to his wife was going to be the least of his worries. IN FACT, IT DIDN’T TAKE LONG for the fuss to die down. When he wanted to, Edgar’s grandfather could radiate a charming enthusiasm, one of the reasons Mary had been attracted to him in the first place. He could tell a good story about the way things were going to be. Besides, they had been living in her parents’ house for over a year and she was as eager as he to get out on her own. They completed the purchase of the land by mail and telegram. This the boy Edgar would come to know because his parents kept their most important documents in an ammunition box at the back of their bedroom closet. The box was military gray, with a big clasp on the side, and it was metal, and therefore mouseproof. When they weren’t around he’d sneak it out and dig through the contents. Their birth certificates were in there, along with a marriage certificate and the deed and history of ownership of their land. But the telegram was what interested him most—a thick, yellowing sheet of paper with a Western Union legend across the top, its message consisting of just six words, glued to the backing in strips: OFFER ACCEPTED SEE ADAMSKI RE PAPERS. Adamski was Mr. Schultz’s lawyer; his signature appeared on several documents in the box. The glue holding those words to the telegram had dried over the years, and each time Edgar snuck it out, another word dropped off. The first to go was papers, then re, then see. Eventually Edgar stopped taking the telegram out at all, fearing that when accepted fluttered into his lap, his family’s claim to the land would be reversed. He didn’t know what to do with the liberated words. It seemed wrong to throw them away, so he dropped them into the ammo box and hoped no one would notice.
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Reading Group Guide

1. How is The Story of Edgar Sawtelle a coming of age novel?

2. What is the significance of the epigraph to the novel, taken from Charles Darwin's The Origin of Species? How does it relate to the story it precedes? 

3. What role do mysteries play in the novel? In what ways is The Story of Edgar Sawtelle a mystery?

4. Telegrams, the shape of words, muteness, barking, crossword puzzles . . . what is the importance of words in The Story of Edgar Sawtelle? And what about things that can't be put into words?

5. How are Sawtelle dogs different from other dogs? What role do they play in the telling of the novel, and how do their perceptions change your view of the human characters?

6. What is the significance of the chapter titles (such as "A Thin Sigh," "Pirates," etc.) Did any surprise you, or give you pause?

7. Hamlet is famously about a son seeking revenge for his father's death by poisoning (to be a little reductive). How does The Story of Edgar Sawtelle echo Hamlet? In what ways is it different?

8. How is death and mourning described and experienced differently at different times in the book?

9. How would you characterize the relationship between Edgar and his mother, Trudy?

10. How would you describe the pacing of The Story of Edgar Sawtelle? What effect does it have on your experience of the book?

11. How does The Story of Edgar Sawtelle compare to other books you have read which are prominently about animals? What makes it better or worse?

12. What is the importance of magic in the novel?

13. To what extent does Edgar create his own problems?

14. What role do settings play in The Story of Edgar Sawtelle?

15. "As they worked, they put the sky in place above, the trees in the ground. They invented colour and air and scent and gravity. Laughter and sadness."  Describe the different kinds of training in the book and what they contribute to your sense of the characters and the story.

16. Why does Edgar leave the farm without waiting for Trudy's signal?

17. "He wouldn't have gotten into the car with Henry if he hadn't trusted him. There were moments when Edgar understood Henry better than Henry understood himself. What Henry couldn't see was that, ordinary or not, he was trustworthy. That much was clear as day." How is trust important in the novel? How do people, and dogs, become trustworthy?

18. In what ways is The Story of Edgar Sawtelle an American book?

19. In its glowing review of the novel, The Washington Post Book World said that the idea of "a story about a mute boy and his dogs sets off alarm bells. . . . Handicapped kids and pets can make a toxic mix of sentimentality." How does The Story of Edgar Sawtelle avoid this danger?

20. Why did David Wroblewski choose to end The Story of Edgar Sawtelle the way he does? What is the effect of the ending of the novel?

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 922 )
Rating Distribution

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(332)

4 Star

(205)

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(161)

2 Star

(120)

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(104)

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 922 Customer Reviews
  • Posted November 12, 2008

    Biggest letdown ever

    Please do not read this book. I just finished it and have never felt more betrayed and letdown by a book before. If you would have asked me yesterday what I thought of the book, I would have told you I loved it. The characters were engrossing, the language was at once a combination of being sparse and detailed. There was just the right amounts of mystery and beauty, and a touch of the otherworldly. In fact, I felt that anything was possible and plausible in the world of the book. I just don't see the point after finishing it. Why did I go through all of Edgar's struggles only to be stabbed in the back by the author. To me, a story should have a reason, a lesson, a moral objective. But where was it? If it was in there it was overshadowed by the ending, which is all I can think about now. Ripping the readers guts out over the course of a book is good, if there is some kind of satisfaction in the outcome of the story. I think the books objective could have been achieved with a different ending, while still being true to the story. I don't even need a full on happy ending, thats not my point. My point is that misery for misery's sake is just pointless. I lived in Wisconsin, and I love dogs, so maybe I fell a little too hard for this book.

    56 out of 77 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 31, 2008

    I Also Recommend:

    I felt like I was right there with the characters

    You have to have an open mind when reading this book or you definitely won't "get it." If you like everything tied up in a neat little package and don't like difficult words (you might even have to look some up), this is probably not the book for you. But if you enjoy feeling like you're living right there with the characters and seeing right through their eyes, this author can take you there. I especially liked seeing the world through Almondine's eyes. It made me understand how my own dogs probably see the world. A terrible sadness gripped me right in the pit of my stomach at the end, but I also felt joy that Almondine's spirit was there for Edgar and I was glad Claude suffered too. I think the ending is open to interpretation, which is good because it gets people talking about the book. I felt somehow that Forte would join the dogs and become their leader, perhaps even take them to Henry. I felt like the dogs were able to almost communicate telepathically with each other. Towards the end of the book I felt excitement and fear and dread for Edgar, disgust and loathing for Claude and pity for Trudy - and I just couldn't put the book down. I actually went back and read the last three chapters one more time after I had finished. I can't wait for him to write another book!

    32 out of 34 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 22, 2009

    Not a happy story

    I'll keep it short and sweet. It was a wonderful book until the end. I hated the ending so much that it ruined the whole book and made me wonder what the whole thing was about.

    27 out of 33 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 15, 2008

    Very disappointed in this book

    The main reason I ordered this book was because it was highly rated on Oprah's show, and I must confess that I will never read another book that Oprah reccommends.<BR/><BR/>To me, this book had some very good story lines about the training and caring of the dogs, along with their breeding history, and how Edgar communicated and related to them. I am a dog lover so I think that part was very well done, but that was the only essence of the book. Nothing else flowed well.<BR/><BR/>Parts of the book went on far too long while describing the forest, the sunset, the lake, etc., so I actually skipped those parts which were several pages long; and wanted to see what happened between Edgar and Claude. Would justice be served????<BR/><BR/>The biggest disappointment was the ending of the story. What happens to the dogs? Do they become wild, or are they on their way to Henry's home to join Tinder and Baboo??

    22 out of 27 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 26, 2009

    Stay Down, Trudy!

    I couldn't wait to read this book. I expected to absolutely love it. With so many critics, readers and even Oprah, for gosh sakes, praising it to the heavens, I'm almost embarrassed to admit that I ... well, I actually hated it (and there are very few books that I would say that about). I thought it was over-blown and self-indulgent. Of the 576 pages, it felt like about 400 were about dog training, a subject I never really cared much about and now, care about even less. And I have a beautiful dog that I love and I'm pretty sure we've done some "shared gazing" without having to make such a big deal about it. Every scene went on and on and on, to the point of sheer torture. By the end of the book, I was irritated with every character, even the beloved Almondine ... I mean, c'mon, who names a dog Almondine? And the ending was truly lame ... if I had any degree of attachment to any of the characters, I would have been yelling, "Get up, Trudy! Save your son!" As it was, I said, "Stay down, Trudy, not worth it." I need to sink my teeth into another book right now, to try to erase the bad taste that Edgar Sawtelle left.

    20 out of 22 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 23, 2009

    Beyond Disappointing!!

    I have never felt the compulsion to write a review - until now. I have NEVER been so disappointed and upset with a book, and I literally HATED the author when I finished. I was upset for days. The book is beautifully written and the author extremely talented. One is completely drawn into the life of Edgar. One knows, though, as the ending approaches that it will not be a good one. There are numerous possibilities as to how to end the story, even negatively. However, this author seems to take an almost sadistic pleasure in leaving the reader completely anguished and distraught! I will never read another book of his.

    20 out of 21 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted October 15, 2008

    Imagination Unrestrained

    While author Wroblewski has a deft paintbrush in detailing the nuanced lives of his human and canine characters, I was left with the nagging feeling that he was simply trying too hard. You could almost hear him as author attempting to get that "just right" description of sunlight through a barn roof, the heavy pant of a loving dog, or the breaking pane of a vandalized window. Nevertheless, I did care deeply for his protaganist -- Edgar. And, I did root for him to triumph. But, where was the "evil"? Claude was enveloped in such mystery that it was difficult to discern what drove him to act with such callous calculation. Where was his passion? The unsatisfying answers in the climax simply left an ache. Was that the point?

    19 out of 21 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 9, 2008

    more from this reviewer

    Hamlet is brought into modern day Wisconsin

    In a remote part of Wisconsin, Gar Sawtelle, his wife Trudy and their young son, mute Edgar makes a living breeding and training dogs. Edgar has developed a unique special relationship with Almondine, one of the family dogs the pair communicate in a way that his parents are unable to do with their son.============== The family is contented although the work with the canines is hard. When Gar's brother charming brother Claude comes home the family dynamics change but not in a positive manner. Soon after his arrival Gar dies and the silent Edgar is unable to call for help. He is filled with remorse and guilt making his grief even more difficult. However, he soon believes his father was murdered by his uncle who has spent an exorbitant amount of time with his mom. Fearing he may be next, Edgar flees accompanied by his best friends Almondine and two other dogs.============= Hamlet is brought into modern day Wisconsin as readers feel the destiny of tragedy will occur from the moment Claude arrives and after that happens, a sense of a second calamity once Edgar concludes his uncle killed his father to eliminate the sole barrier to his mother. Readers will be spellbound by David Wrobleweski¿s retelling of the classic as the key cast comes alive especially the mute Edgar who readers get to know by his thoughts and his communication with Almondine (sort of in some ways like the Ghost). This is a fascinating winner, but at 566 pages set aside some time.========== Harriet Klausner

    18 out of 24 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted November 11, 2008

    Great, exciting read then felt cheated

    I have to agree with Anonymous and 24girl. I absolutely loved this book, the characters and of course the main characters, the Sawtelle dogs. Henry was also an integral part of this story. I found I couldn't wait to get back to it and stayed up many nights until 1 or 1:30 in the morning saying "just one more chapter".<BR/>The ending was such a disapointment...I truly felt cheated of a great read. Many questions were left unanswered. Why did he do it? Where did they go? What about Trudy and Glen? What was in their individual futures?<BR/>And we never really know Almondine's final story.<BR/>This could have been a perfect novel had certain things been somewhat clear at the end. But it was a bit chaotic for me.

    17 out of 19 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 21, 2009

    Very Disappointed

    I has high hopes for this book the way Oprah talked about it. It took me 3 mos. to read it and the first 150-200 pages were very slow. It did get better but not much. The ending was not good at all. Overall not a great book.

    15 out of 19 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 15, 2008

    I Also Recommend:

    What the???

    Why do I listen to critics who praise books? Why do I continue to plod throught a book, which page after page I keep thinking "it must get better soon"? This book has so much detail to skim over, with a possibly interesting plot, yet it goes nowhere. I usually stick to my gut instinct, that after 50 or so pages, if the book doesn't grab my attenion, just stop it. But no, I kept out for hope (it is the Christmas season, after all...) of it getting better. And the ending? It almost seemed as if the author didn't know how to end it, so just slapped a conclusion in it. I actually was mad that I wasted a day reading it. Maybe a talented writer, if he edits more, and adds a bit more climax?

    13 out of 14 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 17, 2009

    Worst book.

    This was a crappy book. I'm serious. I'm no writer (and I don't claim to be) and I'm not the most articulate, but I just want to say that I really have to disagree with Oprah on this. Which I hate to do because I truly love her. I finished this book several months ago. I thought I'd never finish. The beginning of the book is great; you think the thing is truly going to be an epic, especially after all the hype. And then it just drags on and on and on. There were no heroes, except for maybe the ghost. I wanted to strangle the boy's mother. The end was really pointless....don't care what anyone says; it's not just sad, it's sadly annoying. I hated this book!

    9 out of 11 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 23, 2009

    Terrible ending.

    The book was interesting and a great read up until the end. I stayed up until 3 in the morning to finish this book and was so mad with the ending that I could not go to sleep. I will never read any other books by this author. What was Oprah thinking when she was raving about this book.

    8 out of 9 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 29, 2008

    Loosing steam

    The body of the story was well developed but the author ran out of steam at the end. I actually hated the ending. It wasn't deep. It gave no hope. It just ended. Dead, heartbroken, blind: there is no light at the end of the tunnel. Even the dogs drift at the end.

    8 out of 11 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted November 7, 2008

    I Also Recommend:

    This book touched me

    I don't understand why some people don't like this book. I'm assuming they've never had a relationship with a pet before. I was so touched by Edgar's relationship with the dogs - especially when he ran away. Edgar and Henry are extremely lovable and deep characters and the storyline kept me turning the pages as quickly as I could. I cried at the end - not for the death of the protagonist, but for the beauty in which the end was written. The author put to life a human-animal connection that left a lasting impression for me. I've recommended this book to all of my friends.

    8 out of 10 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 8, 2008

    Book of the Year

    The Story of Edgar Sawtelle is, perhaps, the best book I have read all year. There are so many pleasures to be found in this book. It can be read for it's thrilling plot, it's subtle and psychologically nuanced portrait of a family caught in the cross currents of profound grief and corrosive envy, it's rich, beautiful language, or it's tender delineation of the relationship between man and dog. While nodding to Hamlet and The Jungle Book, among other classics, this novel is much more than a recasting of familar themes and story lines. It is a singular work of art unto itself (that also happens to be a terrific, propulsive page-turner). This book is as satisfying and entertaining as popular fiction gets.

    8 out of 8 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 4, 2008

    Bad ending - go to your kennel

    I too am one of those dog people and that's why I picked up the book this summer. It was just too 'too'. From the opening scene with Claude, I knew I had picked the wrong book. I agree with another poster about the end, it seemed as if the author rushed to finish the book and just said 'the end'. And now I see this book featured in all of the book stores, #1 position on the best seller list and I am shaking my head, wandering if I am that thick to have not gotten it. The only one in the family who actually liked the book was our lone male dog, he tore up the dust jacket and chewed the front corners and pronounced it a fun chew due to the size.

    8 out of 11 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted October 29, 2008

    more from this reviewer

    I enjoyed this book up until the end

    This book had just about everything for me....great writting, family drama, the bond between a boy and his dog and some truly amazing characters. Alas....I HATED THE ENDING!

    7 out of 7 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted November 6, 2008

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    The best book I've read this year.

    A bucolic hybrid of Hamlet and a boy and his dog. There are minor problems with this book, but it is an absolutely outstanding first novel. The author is able to draw you into the simple lives of extraordinary dog breeders and weave a tale that is as lovely as it is tragic. Some reviews complain that the story is long winded and isn't neatly tied up in a happy ending, but it's an epic novel that leaves plenty of room for your imagination to roam. The mark of a truly great book is not its ability to keep you in boundaries and dictate the story to you, but to tell a story that can guide your imagination within and beyond its pages. This is a truly great book.

    7 out of 9 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 9, 2008

    Boring, too long, grueling

    The book took over 100 pages of reading to even spark an interest. The descriptions were endless. The book could have been cut down at least 200 pages.<BR/>There were a few pages that would hold your interest to then be back to the endless descriptions and lengthy boring reading.<BR/>I love dogs and own a German Shepard. But it was too hard to follow with no message here. None.<BR/>What a disappointment. Endless words that lead you no where.<BR/>Edgar and Henry were interesting but there was way too many descriptions to keep your interest in the story.<BR/>It reminds me of the Basic English Writing 101 class as a freshman in college...and the very first thing you were taught was to limit extra verbiage and say a story clearly and succinctly.

    5 out of 8 people found this review helpful.

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