The Story of Edgar Sawtelle
By David Wroblewski
Published by Eccobooks (2008)
I think I could kill a person much more easily than a dog. But I work in retail. And I’m not really a good dog owner. I don’t mean that I’m neglectful or abusive I just mean that I spoil my dogs and am a terrible trainer and disciplinarian. So all of them misbehave and occasionally do bad things. But nothing a dog I’ve owned has done has come close to the terrible things I’ve witnessed humans do – Decaf? In the morning? Where’d I put my gun? I jest. My point is, generally speaking, that dogs are pretty cool and people can sometimes be pretty uncool.
The dogs in The Story of Edgar Sawtelle are super-cool. And very well trained. The Sawtelle family has been breeding and raising these special canines for generations. The protagonist in this story, Edgar, is the latest generation to begin learning the Sawtelle dog trade. Born unable to speak Edgar communicates with human and canine alike via sign language. He lives a fairly idyllic life on the farm with his mother and father until tragedy strikes when Edgar is in his early teens. Post tragedy Edgar begins to search the past to find out more about his family’s history and in particular their history with the Sawtelle dogs. There is also a family struggle to keep the business going as outside forces begin to try and have their say in said business.
It was around this point in the story when I suddenly realized, “Hey, wait a second! This is Hamlet!” Apparently the fact that this was a modern retelling of Hamlet was very well known but that didn’t stop it from escaping me. After I realized this I felt pretty stupid. I mean, even the names were trying to help me out: Trudy for Gertrude, Claude for Claudius, etc. I don’t want to give any more of the story away but in case you’ve forgotten, Hamlet definitely fell into the “tragedy” category as opposed to the “comedy” category in the Shakespeare oeuvre.
Once I got the whole Hamlet thing figured out a somewhat odd thing happened. I wanted the ending to change. Sure, technically I didn’t actually know how it ended yet but a quick jog of the memory told me that Hamlet did not end well, what with everyone ending up dead and all. I liked Edgar and the dogs far too much to have a tragic ending. So as I kept reading I kept hoping that things would veer off the tragic path. I wanted this because the book earned a happy ending. And this is a rare thing these days. Especially in Hollywood. Hollywood likes happy endings so much they’ll change the endings of movies based on popular books to suit their needs even if the new ending completely ruins the picture. Stories have to earn their endings whether it’s a happy or sad fate. You can’t set a story marching toward an inevitable end only to swoop in at the last second and change it.
It’s a testament to Wroblewski’s skills as a writer that I wanted him to go ahead and wrap things up in a nice, tidy package whether the story warranted it or not. I won’t say if he did or not but I will say that the ending is thought provoking if nothing else. The Story of Edgar Sawtelle is a wonderful mix of history, science, the super natural, family drama, love and human emotion. Of course, when the story centers on good dogs half the battle is already won if you ask me.