Oprah had high praise on her talk show today for her latest book club selection, The Story of Edgar Sawtelle (Ecco, 566 pages, $26.95), saying, "It's everything you want a book to be. I think this book is right up there with the greatest American novels ever written."
It took author David Wroblewski more than a decade to finish the book, which was a best seller over the summer and received much advance buzz and rave reviews. On the surface it's the story of a boy and his dog in rural Wisconsin; on a deeper level it weaves coming-of-age, family intrigue, mysticism and more.
David Wroblewski took his time (more than 10 years)
writing The Story of Edgar Sawtelle.
(Michael Buckner~Getty Images)
Wroblewski will participate in a live, interactive Webcast with Oprah Book Club members. Details will be announced at a later date on Oprah.com. To join the book club (membership is free): www.oprah.com/bookclub.
Here is the Sun-Times' review of The Story of Edgar Sawtelle ...
By Kit Reed
For the Sun-Times
The bond between dogs and their humans is powerful, as anybody who lives with one can tell you.
The relationship is so complex that sometimes it's hard to tell which is pet and which is master. They worship us, they empathize, they boss us around and in hard times they console us -- unless we're imposing our all-too-humanistic sense of things on creatures who are altogether different.
Whether or not they think the way we do, dogs are amazingly good at expressing themselves. David Wroblewski captures all this and more in The Story of Edgar Sawtelle (Ecco, 566 pages, $26.95), his passionate first novel about a tortured family and its extraordinary dogs. Nobody is better at drawing the loving tug of wills -- or the ways in which dogs tell us what they are thinking.
Instead of raising crops, Gar and Trudy Sawtelle devote their lives to breeding and training dogs on a Wisconsin farm in the early 1970s.
Part shepherd, perhaps part wolf, the Sawtelles' dogs are noble, handsome and sturdy. Their only son Edgar, however, is born flawed. He hears perfectly but can't speak because, a mystic tells him, "before you were born, God told you a secret he didn't want anyone else to know."
Even Edgar doesn't know. What he does know is that he loves his parents and he loves the puppy they brought into the house before he was born. Almondine knew he was coming: "Sometimes, after she'd searched and failed to find the thing that was going to happen, she stood beside Edgar's mother or father and waited for them to call it out."
Boy and dog grow up together, and if the dog ages faster than the child -- well, only a grieving human can tell you what that's like. Late in the novel, in a passage strong enough to move even the toughest, most cynical readers to tears, Almondine will look for Edgar again. This book knows how to do that to a person.
Mute Edgar talks with his hands. Using signs and gestures, he's intelligent and voluble. The signals make him better than most at communicating with the dogs he trains. A letter to Edgar's grandfather best expresses the Sawtelle philosophy: "There are limits to what even the most rigorously scientific breeding program can accomplish -- based not only on the foundation stock and the limits of precision we have for measuring the dogs, but on limits that come from within us -- limits, in other words, of our own imagination, and of ourselves as conscientious human beings. In the end, to create better dogs, we will have to become better people."
Enter Gar's evil, estranged brother, Clyde.
Before the power struggle is done, Gar will die, leaving Trudy desolate and Edgar angry and suspicious. All this unfolds so surely and hypnotically that the reader forgets that the story is based on an old Shakespearian template.
Reading it is like entering a long dream that won't let you out until it's ready. Expect storms, expect a ghost and mysterious events, a riveting trip into the wild with Edgar and three dogs; expect losses and, like Edgar, go where this wonderful novel takes you.
Kit Reed's latest novel, The Night Children, comes out this month.