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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.

David Wroblewski is a master storyteller, and his breathtaking scenes—the elemental north woods, the sweep of seasons, an iconic American barn, a fateful vision rendered in the falling rain—create a riveting family saga, a brilliant exploration of the limits of language, and a compulsively readable modern classic.

Topics: Love, Grief, Wisconsin, Midwestern America, Rural, Bildungsroman, Retellings, Debut, 1970s, Magical Realism, Gothic, Animal Narrator, Multiple Perspectives, Domestic, Dark, Tragic, Emotional, Dogs, Family, Coming of Age, Animals, and Magic

Published: HarperCollins on
ISBN: 9780061792595
List price: $5.99
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Like another review stated, I'm torn between 5 stars and 1 star. The beginning of the book was irresistible. I loved it. The last part of the book was seriously lacking. It's like the author lost steam and just wanted to end it.

Certain things in the book reminded me of Harry Potter...I think it's just the frustration that comes with reading about a teenager. I was so irritated with Edgar at times. I really felt the frustration that he must have had with not being able to verbalize ANYTHING!
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Hamlet retold, set in Wisconsin, with dogs (including Ophelia as a beloved canine). Shakespeare is rolling in his grave.more
A lot of hype, unjustified. Some of the writing is beautiful, but this is offset by the fact that the book is over 200 pages too long. In the guise of lyrical imagery, some passages are almost indecipherable. If my book club did not have it as our next selection, I would never have finished reading it.more
I sure wish someone had told me this was discussed as being a "modern retelling of Hamlet" before I read it. My expectations would have been much different and I might have enjoyed it more. Or perhaps I would have just not read it since I DON'T LIKE tragedy.more
This book was beautifully written but I was beginning to get a very bad feeling from it and stopped and flipped to the last page. If I want my heart ripped from my body,let it be after I have died.more
I really couldn’t be objective about this book. I said earlier how I was enjoying it purely as a reader and not a critic, but it goes deeper than that. It’s like Wroblewski had some kind of infrared Jungian checklist and somehow managed to find out all my childhood fantasies: benevolent and wise dog companion/nursemaid? Check. Super-intelligent semi-wild pack of devoted dogs that sleep with you at night? Check. I guess the only thing worse than being raised by wolves is wishing you were – as a kid I always had a fantasy of a wolf pack appearing on my street to take me away. I wanted a dog who would look out for me like Lassie. So this was like – pardon the crudeness of the simile – finding the porn that gets you off just right.Even though there were problems – a series of transitions in the last quarter of the book that didn’t work well, and the last part in the barn wasn’t the climax or catharsis that I think the book wanted, and yeah, it was fat as a tick on a dog’s ear. But that didn’t matter much to me, honestly – I was so emotionally involved with the characters it was like being in love, in the way logic just flies out the window for a while. And it’s been such a long time since a book did that to me. I gave in, I did, I swooned.Plus there’s a lot that was just right. His language is nicely suited to the tale, elegant and tuned into the natural world. Obviously I’m a dog person so I’m slanted that way in the first place, but I thought he wrote the dogs well. It’s always a treat to read someone who’s so carefully observed something that you have too. And much of the book flowed beautifully. But mostly it was the characters that moved me, people and dogs alike. Not necessarily their inner lives or motivations, which fluctuated all over the board in terms of plausibility – just the fact of them. They’ll stay with me a while. Lord, I cried so hard over Almondine I had to go sit outside for a few minutes with my arm around my own flesh-and-blood dog.And the very last scene just called up my inner 8-year-old and made her happy. I couldn’t evaluate that dispassionately if I tried.In the end I don’t really know what to say about this book that anyone else might relate to. All I know is it transported me, and it was a good ride.more
Bland, superficial, pointless Hamlet retread. A pageturner in places and often likeable enough, but it promises a lot more than it delivers. It could have been so good, but it only coughed up a few sublime moments. (More than some, I guess.)more
This novel is worth it for the insight (if you can call it that) the author has into what dog psychology and behavior alone. Over and over he captures what seems to be the truth about dogs and it's amazing. The book is beautifully written, too, full of great observations and descriptions. The action is suspenseful as well, making it easy to keep reading, especially during the second half of the book. Now, if only the human characters, especially the one female character, were as well imagined as the dogs. Edgar himself is difficult to understand at times - where does his anger come from? - and his mother's behavior makes no sense at all. Sure, she's strong willed, but that doesn't mean what she does can't make sense. The characters in the roles of villains struck me the same way, somewhat one-note and without believable explanation for their behavior.more
** spoiler alert ** This novel, a retelling of Hamlet, transposes the familiar story to northern Wisconsin in the 1970s. Wroblewski adheres so closely to Shakespeare’s tale that his characters can seem mechanistic, driven not by any reasonable motivation but by the requirements of plot. But Wroblewski’s detailed observations of the Chequamegon Forest—the changing moods of its weather, its role as both threat and shelter—immerse readers in a vivid, memorable landscape. Told from numerous points of view, the book is strongest when Edgar’s perspective merges with that of the dogs he trains, becoming entirely attuned to the richness of the present moment.more
This book was hard to put down. The author has a beautiful mastery of language, and his descriptions of nature are almost otherworldly at times. Likewise his descriptions of emotions, both human and canine. I would have given this five stars, but I found the tragic ending almost unbearable. I didn't realize until after I had read it that it was based on Shakespeare's Hamlet. Had I known this beforehand, it would have done two things: I probably wouldn't have enjoyed the story as much, and I might have been able to bear the ending. Still. it's a wonderful read!more
The Story of Edgar Sawtelle is a wonderfully written book by a truly talented author. The story is compelling, the characters intriguing, the language beautiful and the reading of it effortless. For such a lengthy book (almost 600 pages), I was amazed how quickly I finished it. It pulled me in and was a delight to read.Edgar is a remarkable child who lives with his parents who are dog breeders. No ordinary dogs, however, but 'Sawtelle dogs' with amazing skills. The dogs play a large role in the book. I have never spent a large amount of time around dogs so I don't know how much of the dogs' behaviour is realistic and how much is bordering on fantasy. However, Wrobewski brings the dogs to life and they are as full in character as the humans of the novel.The main character - other than the Sawtelle Dogs! - is Edgar who is a young boy who is mute but is possibly a better communicator than most other people. He is clearly gifted in many ways and this becomes more and more apparent as the book progresses. He is clever, insightful and an excellent dog handler/trainer. The story is about Edgar Sawtelle and the tragedy that befalls his family and what follows next. But it's about many other things as well: love, loss, friendship, loneliness, family. It's hard to talk too much about the story without giving things away. The best thing to do is read it. It has been likened to Hamlet but as one other reader says, it stands alone as its own story.Finishing the book felt a little like emerging from a gripping dream, trying to stay asleep for just a few more minutes because you want to stay immersed in it for a little longer. It's a book that inspires many emotions, not least of all disappointment because you've reach the end of those 576 pages. It's certainly a book to put on the shelf and read again at some point, at which time I doubt it will be any the less engaging.more
I read this book some time ago for a book club discussion but felt that I hurried through it so decided to re-read by audio book. I just finished listening to the 19 discs and I enjoyed the book more than on the first reading. It is probably because I already knew the ending. The idea of raising “Sawtelle dogs” was intriguing but I got lost in the details. The book changes between sad, morose and suspenseful. Edgar, who is born without a voice is brought up in and around the kennels and is raised by his father and mother. Tragedy or foul play strikes and Edgar is filled with anger and sadness. In fact, tragedy and or foul play seems to repeat itself in this book. Edgar Sawtelle is not a happily ever after book and is a bit depressing, although one character Henry was well developed and I was drawn into the positive interactions between him and Edgar. I am glad that I read the book a second time so that I could better understand the characters. The language was rich and the writing well done. The ending is very difficult so be prepared to shake your head in wonder leaving you with more questions than answers. I would give the book a 3.5 rating.more
This book was amazing from the very first page. As a person who loves dogs, I was enthralled with the descriptions of the breeding and the dog training program described in the book and the way Edgar's father and grandfather created a new, extremely intelligent ando believable breed of dog. That aside, the story of Edgar's life was also fascinating. This is one of a very few books that I couldn't put down until I read it all. Then for months after, I could not stop thinking about it.more
Loved the dogginess of this story, having a hard time shaking the sorrow of it.more
I had my doubts about a re‐telling of "Hamlet" on a farm with a familythat breeds and trains dogs, but I was quickly won over. Dog loversespecially will love this book.more
Wow, I was so impressed by this book!! I cant believe that this was his first novel!! I really, really liked this book. I loved the whole involvement of the dogs in the story and it was really a suspense/mystery, too. The characters were so real and I just wanted to speak up for poor Edgar myself. Great book, highly recommend!more
did not like the ending, but enjoyed the bookmore
I think if I lived on a farm and was American I would have appreciated the story a little more. Well written, excellent descriptions.more
I resisted reading this for a long time, because it was an Oprah book and because it was so long; finally, after two friends each gave me the paperback, I decided I'd better see what it was all about. I liked the descriptive writing, except for a slight overuse of hyphenated adjectives. I liked the story, pretty much, except for the apocalyptic ending. I liked the interactions with and descriptions of the dogs, although a dog friend of mine said real dogs aren't like that. Overall, I'm glad I read it, and all those pages went quite quickly.more
Reading notes:Though I am a cat person, I love these dogs. Wroblewski does a great job going just far enough into their minds to make me believe this is how they are perceiving the world. I am less convinced by Edgar's inexplicable muteness. It seems like a metaphor for those choices that are not choices--the feeling some people have of being trapped in the wrong gender, for example. It hurts and it can't be changed but it seems, somehow, like a choice, since the doctors can find no reason for it.I stayed up late last night reading because halfway through the book something mysterious happens--it seems to change genres and become a ghost story. Wait, not just a ghost story--Hamlet. I can't seem to get away from Hamlet (I love Sons of Anarchy but that is a loose adaptation compared to where this book seems to be going. Kind of reminds me of Jane Smiley's A Thousand Acres, setting King Lear in Midwest farm country.) Now I see that Edgar's muteness is a stand-in/explanation for Hamlet's always troubling inability to just shout out and act on what he knows. But does it work? Stay tunedSPOILERS AHEADI'm starting to feel irritated by the imposition of the Hamlet narrative. I liked this as a simple story about a special guy with special dogs. I didn't know what was going to happen. Now I feel that I do know. A few pages after I realized that the veterinarian was Polonius, I knew he was going to get it. Now I am worried about Almondine: is she Ophelia? Maybe this just shows that I care more about human animal relationships, but I am really disturbed by Edgar's turning away from the dog because she sat by Claude (Claudius's) feet. It is a testimony to how real Wroblewski has made the human and animal characters that I am upset by their behavior, but where can this go? While in this real world it does seem more plausible that Edgar cannot take decisive action, than it did for Hamlet, who was, after all a prince, still, it is a bit agonizing to watch to see how long it takes for this pleasant world to turn into a bloodbath.Yes, Almondine was Ophelia and I agree that her final chapter is beautifully written and certainly makes me sad for her and for their failed reunion in a way I never felt for Ophelia. In the author interview, W says he thinks of the book as more of an allusion than a retelling of Hamlet, but I don't think he has succeeded in being merely allusive. Sons of Anarchy is allusive--one is never sure whether or not the writers will follow the preordained narrative, but here the plot seems driven by the inevitable tragic end. I read compulsively, hoping it would not end that way, while knowing it would. (Okay, Gertrude and Laertes are left alive--more or less--but for all practical purposes, the story stayed true.) Which is not to say that the author does not bring that story to life in a fresh, compelling way and that this is not well worth reading.more
Edgar Sawtelle was born mute, not deaf-mute, just mute. He could hear just fine but he couldn't make a sound. Somewhat surprisingly he managed to communicate quite well. At first his dog, Almondine, assisted him in making his wants known. Almondine was not just any dog, she was a Sawtelle dog. Edgar's grandfather had started the breed, picking dogs because they showed unusual intelligence. He kept meticulous breeding records as did Edgar's father Gar. Edgar's father and mother made their living by breeding and training dogs so it was natural that from the time he was able to do so Edgar started caring for and training the dogs.When Edgar was about 13 his uncle, Carl, came to live with them. Carl had sold his interest in the breeding operation to Gar when their father died but he'd fallen on tough times and Gar brought him home. Big mistake! Gar and Carl did not get along and one day after a big fight Carl took off. But he stayed in the vicinity, working at odd jobs, one of which was helping the local vet in his practise. Carl was good with animals and he could settle any frightened or injured animal. Shortly after Carl left the farm Gar falls down in the barn while Trudy, his wife, is away from the farm. Edgar is upstairs in the hay mow and runs to his father's aid but he can't do anything to help. Because of his disability he can't phone for help and there is no-one near to run to. Edgar stays with his father while he dies.Both Edgar and Trudy are plunged into depression by this sudden death. They are barely able to do all the necessary chores and then Trudy gets pneumonia. Edgar tries to cover the basics while Trudy stays in bed but he can't manage. He persuades Trudy to call Carl. Soon Carl is living at the house and sleeping with Trudy. Edgar is confused and unhappy and soon he has reason to believe Carl killed his father.Throughout the story we learn details about the dogs and their training. Shortly before his father's death Edgar was given one of the litters to train on his own. About the only thing that makes life worth living is being with those dogs and Almondine. Some people who haven't spent much time with dogs might doubt the details of the relationship Edgar has with the dogs.Now Almondine occupied his thoughts. He hadn't seen her for two months or more and suddenly it felt like he'd been severed from some fundament of his being. At the end of the next day or the day after that, they would be joined again. Perhaps she would have forgotten his crimes, for which he wanted more than anything to atone. Everything that had happened to him since he'd left made him think of her. Others dreamed of finding a person in the world whose soul was made in their mirror image, but she and Edgar had been conceived nearly togehter, grown up together, and however strange it might be, she was his other.As a person who has been lucky enough to spend almost 15 years with a special dog I completely understand that. Some dogs just connect with your soul and you'll never be the same after that.The ending of this story is indescribably sad and when so many books tie everything up neatly and supposedly everyone lives happily ever after, that is unusual. But it makes the book stronger. I suspect I might dream about Edgar and Almondine and Essay and Tinder and Forte and all the rest.more
Forte's Children -Edgar comes from a line of dog breeders. After buying a farm, his grandfather rents out the farmland and starts dog breeding. He and his wife have two sons, Edgar's father (Gar) and Claude. Claude leaves the farm and Gar stays on and carries on the family business. After some troubled attempts to have a child, Gar and his wife (Trudy) have Edgar. After his parents come to understand that he is mute, Edgar grows up on the farm learning to breed dogs with his parents and Almondine, his own dog. Once he is old enough, his parents give him his own litter to raise.Eventually, Claude returns to the farm. After a brief stint of helping out around the house and barn, he leaves after a drunken brawl with Gar. A few weeks later, Edgar finds his father in the barn, dying mysteriously. After unsuccessfully trying to call for help, Edgar watches his father die.Three Griefs -After burying Gar, Edgar and Trudy decide to keep the family business running, despite the new workload. However, shortly after beginning to adjust to Gar's death, Trudy catches pneumonia and Edgar attempts to carry on the work without her. Before long, two dogs end up in a vicious fight. With both dogs injured and their vet out of town, they must call on Claude for assistance. After he helps treat the dogs and Trudy recovers, they begin to sleep together.One night not long after, Edgar wakes to the dogs barking and goes to investigate. Searching around in a storm for what was causing the dogs to bark, he sees the outline of his father's ghost in the rain. Through signs, Edgar is led to the syringe that most likely killed his father – one that he has seen Claude use before.What Hands Do -After Edgar confirms for sure that his mother and Claude are indeed romantically involved, he struggles to live under the same roof with his uncle. He comes to seek confirmation for his suspicions about his father's murder.When a potential buyer comes over to take a look at their dogs, Edgar seizes on the opportunity to test Claude. He stages a scene with the dogs, in which they mimic Claude using a syringe to poison people. One dog touches another with a syringe in its mouth and the touched dog falls over and plays dead. The final dog touches Claude's leg, and when he flinches, Edgar feels he has confirmed his suspicions.Angry at the strange show Edgar put on in front of a buyer, Trudy confronts Edgar and they get in a struggle. In the midst of their argument, Edgar, enraged, seeing a figure he thinks to be Claude, swings a hay hook and sends him tumbling down the stairs, killing him. Trudy discovers that the figure was actually Dr. Papineau, their vet. Scared at what might happen to Edgar because of the death, she tells him to disappear for a while. Three dogs from his litter follow him into the woods.Chequamegon -Edgar drifts in the woods and, without a fishing tackle, is forced to rob the cabins he comes across for food. Eventually he decides to head up to Canada, where there is a commune he hopes to join. Along the way however, one of his dogs is injured, and he is forced to seek help.He goes to a house he has just robbed and the owner, Henry, helps him with the injured dog. He takes to Henry, and agrees to stay there until his dog has healed. Once the dog is healed, Henry offers to give Edgar a ride up north to his destination. En route they are hit by a tornado. In the aftermath, Edgar decides to return home.Poison -Edgar returns home and leaves a note in his house for his mother. Claude finds it before Trudy and tells Glen, a police officer and son of Dr. Papineau, who is suspicious that Edgar caused his father's death. Spooked by Edgar's appearance, Claude moves a bottle of poison in the barn and Edgar catches him. Later, Edgar sees his mother and convinces her to give him a night alone in the barn, so he can search for the poison Claude moved. Meanwhile, Claude and Glen plot to trap Edgar, so Glen can “question” him.Glen surprises Edgar in the barn and tries to kidnap him using a rag soaked in ether. Edgar manages to grab some quicklime and douses Glen in it. It gets in Glen's eyes and he stumbles out of the barn, blinded. The ether hits a lamp and the barn lights on fire. Edgar, worried for the dogs papers, his father's life's work, starts moving them out of the barn while it burns up. Claude has hidden the poison with the papers, though. He pretends to help Edgar take the files out of the barn, grabs the bottle of poison, and when he is not looking, stabs Edgar with a syringe in the burning barn. As Claude waits for the poison to work on Edgar, the barn fills with smoke. Claude is unable to escape and he and Edgar die in the barn. The Sawtelle dogs, who have escaped the fire, leave into the wild.more
Well, I highly doubt that O herself read this. It took about 280 pages for me to actually get into this book, which proves my dedication. I would not call it a must read, but it will serve as a giant trophy on my bookshelf!more
If you train dogs, you'll love this book. If you don't train dogs, or care about things like that... then you probably shouldn't read this book unless you start on page 329--that's where it actually starts getting "interesting." but, even so, parts from them on are still extremely boring, and the end will come and you'll thank the heavens. I couldn't have cared less what happened to any of these characters, and when things did, I didn't feel bad at all.more
Life changing awesomeness!more
One of the most beautifully written books I've ever come across. I've read that there's comparisons to be made between this book and a story of old, but since I was not "front of my brain" familiar with that story, all I can say is that some of the sentences in the book literally took my breath away...they were that beautiful. Like all people that believe that good/right/kindness should prevail in any story, I disliked the ending, but there was something true about it, so I shall be able to live with it. Don't know why we haven't seen this as a movie....and I like it that way.more
This is an excellent novel unto itself. However, if you have read Hamlet, you will quickly realize that this is a modernized version; to me this is just icing on the cake!more
I resisted reading this book when it first came out, as I often do with books that receive an enormous amount of hype. However, my friend and my dog's trainer recently gave the book to me and so I was nudged toward it.I wish I had liked it more. It is often referred to as "Hamlet of Wisconsin" and I suppose the part of the plot involving a ghostly father and a an uncle hopping into Mum's bed justifies the comparison, but frankly, when it comes to Hamlet, I missed Ophelia.Wroblewski can write prose. He uses some terrific phrases and writes a fine description, but I found the pacing very herky-jerky and the character motivations oddly opaque. Several plot lines seemed to fade into nothing (the prophetic old lady for example), and a number of the hinge-events seemed overly sentimental and a little maudlin.As a dog lover, I was at first charmed by the detail the author puts into the descriptions of dog behavior and psychology, but page after page after page of it inevitably got in the way. I'm surprised an editor didn't ask Wroblewski to choose between writing a dog training/breeding manual and a novel.As I said, I think Wroblewski knows how to turn a phrase (otherwise the book would have earned only 2 stars), I'm afraid in the end I just wasn't interested enough in the characters, or what happened to them, and the fact I enjoyed the brief passages written from Almondine's (one of the dogs) point of view more than anything else, isn't a good sign.more
One of my favourite books. Though marginally a modern take on "Hamlet" it's completely readably without any reference to the original. But my favourite moment in the book is when the author has to deal with the appearance of Dad's ghost. I was so afraid it would be handled cheesily, but it was spectacular! Read that passage again and again for its beauty.more
Was fun to read but not sure what I was supposed to get from it.more
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Reviews

Like another review stated, I'm torn between 5 stars and 1 star. The beginning of the book was irresistible. I loved it. The last part of the book was seriously lacking. It's like the author lost steam and just wanted to end it.

Certain things in the book reminded me of Harry Potter...I think it's just the frustration that comes with reading about a teenager. I was so irritated with Edgar at times. I really felt the frustration that he must have had with not being able to verbalize ANYTHING!
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Hamlet retold, set in Wisconsin, with dogs (including Ophelia as a beloved canine). Shakespeare is rolling in his grave.more
A lot of hype, unjustified. Some of the writing is beautiful, but this is offset by the fact that the book is over 200 pages too long. In the guise of lyrical imagery, some passages are almost indecipherable. If my book club did not have it as our next selection, I would never have finished reading it.more
I sure wish someone had told me this was discussed as being a "modern retelling of Hamlet" before I read it. My expectations would have been much different and I might have enjoyed it more. Or perhaps I would have just not read it since I DON'T LIKE tragedy.more
This book was beautifully written but I was beginning to get a very bad feeling from it and stopped and flipped to the last page. If I want my heart ripped from my body,let it be after I have died.more
I really couldn’t be objective about this book. I said earlier how I was enjoying it purely as a reader and not a critic, but it goes deeper than that. It’s like Wroblewski had some kind of infrared Jungian checklist and somehow managed to find out all my childhood fantasies: benevolent and wise dog companion/nursemaid? Check. Super-intelligent semi-wild pack of devoted dogs that sleep with you at night? Check. I guess the only thing worse than being raised by wolves is wishing you were – as a kid I always had a fantasy of a wolf pack appearing on my street to take me away. I wanted a dog who would look out for me like Lassie. So this was like – pardon the crudeness of the simile – finding the porn that gets you off just right.Even though there were problems – a series of transitions in the last quarter of the book that didn’t work well, and the last part in the barn wasn’t the climax or catharsis that I think the book wanted, and yeah, it was fat as a tick on a dog’s ear. But that didn’t matter much to me, honestly – I was so emotionally involved with the characters it was like being in love, in the way logic just flies out the window for a while. And it’s been such a long time since a book did that to me. I gave in, I did, I swooned.Plus there’s a lot that was just right. His language is nicely suited to the tale, elegant and tuned into the natural world. Obviously I’m a dog person so I’m slanted that way in the first place, but I thought he wrote the dogs well. It’s always a treat to read someone who’s so carefully observed something that you have too. And much of the book flowed beautifully. But mostly it was the characters that moved me, people and dogs alike. Not necessarily their inner lives or motivations, which fluctuated all over the board in terms of plausibility – just the fact of them. They’ll stay with me a while. Lord, I cried so hard over Almondine I had to go sit outside for a few minutes with my arm around my own flesh-and-blood dog.And the very last scene just called up my inner 8-year-old and made her happy. I couldn’t evaluate that dispassionately if I tried.In the end I don’t really know what to say about this book that anyone else might relate to. All I know is it transported me, and it was a good ride.more
Bland, superficial, pointless Hamlet retread. A pageturner in places and often likeable enough, but it promises a lot more than it delivers. It could have been so good, but it only coughed up a few sublime moments. (More than some, I guess.)more
This novel is worth it for the insight (if you can call it that) the author has into what dog psychology and behavior alone. Over and over he captures what seems to be the truth about dogs and it's amazing. The book is beautifully written, too, full of great observations and descriptions. The action is suspenseful as well, making it easy to keep reading, especially during the second half of the book. Now, if only the human characters, especially the one female character, were as well imagined as the dogs. Edgar himself is difficult to understand at times - where does his anger come from? - and his mother's behavior makes no sense at all. Sure, she's strong willed, but that doesn't mean what she does can't make sense. The characters in the roles of villains struck me the same way, somewhat one-note and without believable explanation for their behavior.more
** spoiler alert ** This novel, a retelling of Hamlet, transposes the familiar story to northern Wisconsin in the 1970s. Wroblewski adheres so closely to Shakespeare’s tale that his characters can seem mechanistic, driven not by any reasonable motivation but by the requirements of plot. But Wroblewski’s detailed observations of the Chequamegon Forest—the changing moods of its weather, its role as both threat and shelter—immerse readers in a vivid, memorable landscape. Told from numerous points of view, the book is strongest when Edgar’s perspective merges with that of the dogs he trains, becoming entirely attuned to the richness of the present moment.more
This book was hard to put down. The author has a beautiful mastery of language, and his descriptions of nature are almost otherworldly at times. Likewise his descriptions of emotions, both human and canine. I would have given this five stars, but I found the tragic ending almost unbearable. I didn't realize until after I had read it that it was based on Shakespeare's Hamlet. Had I known this beforehand, it would have done two things: I probably wouldn't have enjoyed the story as much, and I might have been able to bear the ending. Still. it's a wonderful read!more
The Story of Edgar Sawtelle is a wonderfully written book by a truly talented author. The story is compelling, the characters intriguing, the language beautiful and the reading of it effortless. For such a lengthy book (almost 600 pages), I was amazed how quickly I finished it. It pulled me in and was a delight to read.Edgar is a remarkable child who lives with his parents who are dog breeders. No ordinary dogs, however, but 'Sawtelle dogs' with amazing skills. The dogs play a large role in the book. I have never spent a large amount of time around dogs so I don't know how much of the dogs' behaviour is realistic and how much is bordering on fantasy. However, Wrobewski brings the dogs to life and they are as full in character as the humans of the novel.The main character - other than the Sawtelle Dogs! - is Edgar who is a young boy who is mute but is possibly a better communicator than most other people. He is clearly gifted in many ways and this becomes more and more apparent as the book progresses. He is clever, insightful and an excellent dog handler/trainer. The story is about Edgar Sawtelle and the tragedy that befalls his family and what follows next. But it's about many other things as well: love, loss, friendship, loneliness, family. It's hard to talk too much about the story without giving things away. The best thing to do is read it. It has been likened to Hamlet but as one other reader says, it stands alone as its own story.Finishing the book felt a little like emerging from a gripping dream, trying to stay asleep for just a few more minutes because you want to stay immersed in it for a little longer. It's a book that inspires many emotions, not least of all disappointment because you've reach the end of those 576 pages. It's certainly a book to put on the shelf and read again at some point, at which time I doubt it will be any the less engaging.more
I read this book some time ago for a book club discussion but felt that I hurried through it so decided to re-read by audio book. I just finished listening to the 19 discs and I enjoyed the book more than on the first reading. It is probably because I already knew the ending. The idea of raising “Sawtelle dogs” was intriguing but I got lost in the details. The book changes between sad, morose and suspenseful. Edgar, who is born without a voice is brought up in and around the kennels and is raised by his father and mother. Tragedy or foul play strikes and Edgar is filled with anger and sadness. In fact, tragedy and or foul play seems to repeat itself in this book. Edgar Sawtelle is not a happily ever after book and is a bit depressing, although one character Henry was well developed and I was drawn into the positive interactions between him and Edgar. I am glad that I read the book a second time so that I could better understand the characters. The language was rich and the writing well done. The ending is very difficult so be prepared to shake your head in wonder leaving you with more questions than answers. I would give the book a 3.5 rating.more
This book was amazing from the very first page. As a person who loves dogs, I was enthralled with the descriptions of the breeding and the dog training program described in the book and the way Edgar's father and grandfather created a new, extremely intelligent ando believable breed of dog. That aside, the story of Edgar's life was also fascinating. This is one of a very few books that I couldn't put down until I read it all. Then for months after, I could not stop thinking about it.more
Loved the dogginess of this story, having a hard time shaking the sorrow of it.more
I had my doubts about a re‐telling of "Hamlet" on a farm with a familythat breeds and trains dogs, but I was quickly won over. Dog loversespecially will love this book.more
Wow, I was so impressed by this book!! I cant believe that this was his first novel!! I really, really liked this book. I loved the whole involvement of the dogs in the story and it was really a suspense/mystery, too. The characters were so real and I just wanted to speak up for poor Edgar myself. Great book, highly recommend!more
did not like the ending, but enjoyed the bookmore
I think if I lived on a farm and was American I would have appreciated the story a little more. Well written, excellent descriptions.more
I resisted reading this for a long time, because it was an Oprah book and because it was so long; finally, after two friends each gave me the paperback, I decided I'd better see what it was all about. I liked the descriptive writing, except for a slight overuse of hyphenated adjectives. I liked the story, pretty much, except for the apocalyptic ending. I liked the interactions with and descriptions of the dogs, although a dog friend of mine said real dogs aren't like that. Overall, I'm glad I read it, and all those pages went quite quickly.more
Reading notes:Though I am a cat person, I love these dogs. Wroblewski does a great job going just far enough into their minds to make me believe this is how they are perceiving the world. I am less convinced by Edgar's inexplicable muteness. It seems like a metaphor for those choices that are not choices--the feeling some people have of being trapped in the wrong gender, for example. It hurts and it can't be changed but it seems, somehow, like a choice, since the doctors can find no reason for it.I stayed up late last night reading because halfway through the book something mysterious happens--it seems to change genres and become a ghost story. Wait, not just a ghost story--Hamlet. I can't seem to get away from Hamlet (I love Sons of Anarchy but that is a loose adaptation compared to where this book seems to be going. Kind of reminds me of Jane Smiley's A Thousand Acres, setting King Lear in Midwest farm country.) Now I see that Edgar's muteness is a stand-in/explanation for Hamlet's always troubling inability to just shout out and act on what he knows. But does it work? Stay tunedSPOILERS AHEADI'm starting to feel irritated by the imposition of the Hamlet narrative. I liked this as a simple story about a special guy with special dogs. I didn't know what was going to happen. Now I feel that I do know. A few pages after I realized that the veterinarian was Polonius, I knew he was going to get it. Now I am worried about Almondine: is she Ophelia? Maybe this just shows that I care more about human animal relationships, but I am really disturbed by Edgar's turning away from the dog because she sat by Claude (Claudius's) feet. It is a testimony to how real Wroblewski has made the human and animal characters that I am upset by their behavior, but where can this go? While in this real world it does seem more plausible that Edgar cannot take decisive action, than it did for Hamlet, who was, after all a prince, still, it is a bit agonizing to watch to see how long it takes for this pleasant world to turn into a bloodbath.Yes, Almondine was Ophelia and I agree that her final chapter is beautifully written and certainly makes me sad for her and for their failed reunion in a way I never felt for Ophelia. In the author interview, W says he thinks of the book as more of an allusion than a retelling of Hamlet, but I don't think he has succeeded in being merely allusive. Sons of Anarchy is allusive--one is never sure whether or not the writers will follow the preordained narrative, but here the plot seems driven by the inevitable tragic end. I read compulsively, hoping it would not end that way, while knowing it would. (Okay, Gertrude and Laertes are left alive--more or less--but for all practical purposes, the story stayed true.) Which is not to say that the author does not bring that story to life in a fresh, compelling way and that this is not well worth reading.more
Edgar Sawtelle was born mute, not deaf-mute, just mute. He could hear just fine but he couldn't make a sound. Somewhat surprisingly he managed to communicate quite well. At first his dog, Almondine, assisted him in making his wants known. Almondine was not just any dog, she was a Sawtelle dog. Edgar's grandfather had started the breed, picking dogs because they showed unusual intelligence. He kept meticulous breeding records as did Edgar's father Gar. Edgar's father and mother made their living by breeding and training dogs so it was natural that from the time he was able to do so Edgar started caring for and training the dogs.When Edgar was about 13 his uncle, Carl, came to live with them. Carl had sold his interest in the breeding operation to Gar when their father died but he'd fallen on tough times and Gar brought him home. Big mistake! Gar and Carl did not get along and one day after a big fight Carl took off. But he stayed in the vicinity, working at odd jobs, one of which was helping the local vet in his practise. Carl was good with animals and he could settle any frightened or injured animal. Shortly after Carl left the farm Gar falls down in the barn while Trudy, his wife, is away from the farm. Edgar is upstairs in the hay mow and runs to his father's aid but he can't do anything to help. Because of his disability he can't phone for help and there is no-one near to run to. Edgar stays with his father while he dies.Both Edgar and Trudy are plunged into depression by this sudden death. They are barely able to do all the necessary chores and then Trudy gets pneumonia. Edgar tries to cover the basics while Trudy stays in bed but he can't manage. He persuades Trudy to call Carl. Soon Carl is living at the house and sleeping with Trudy. Edgar is confused and unhappy and soon he has reason to believe Carl killed his father.Throughout the story we learn details about the dogs and their training. Shortly before his father's death Edgar was given one of the litters to train on his own. About the only thing that makes life worth living is being with those dogs and Almondine. Some people who haven't spent much time with dogs might doubt the details of the relationship Edgar has with the dogs.Now Almondine occupied his thoughts. He hadn't seen her for two months or more and suddenly it felt like he'd been severed from some fundament of his being. At the end of the next day or the day after that, they would be joined again. Perhaps she would have forgotten his crimes, for which he wanted more than anything to atone. Everything that had happened to him since he'd left made him think of her. Others dreamed of finding a person in the world whose soul was made in their mirror image, but she and Edgar had been conceived nearly togehter, grown up together, and however strange it might be, she was his other.As a person who has been lucky enough to spend almost 15 years with a special dog I completely understand that. Some dogs just connect with your soul and you'll never be the same after that.The ending of this story is indescribably sad and when so many books tie everything up neatly and supposedly everyone lives happily ever after, that is unusual. But it makes the book stronger. I suspect I might dream about Edgar and Almondine and Essay and Tinder and Forte and all the rest.more
Forte's Children -Edgar comes from a line of dog breeders. After buying a farm, his grandfather rents out the farmland and starts dog breeding. He and his wife have two sons, Edgar's father (Gar) and Claude. Claude leaves the farm and Gar stays on and carries on the family business. After some troubled attempts to have a child, Gar and his wife (Trudy) have Edgar. After his parents come to understand that he is mute, Edgar grows up on the farm learning to breed dogs with his parents and Almondine, his own dog. Once he is old enough, his parents give him his own litter to raise.Eventually, Claude returns to the farm. After a brief stint of helping out around the house and barn, he leaves after a drunken brawl with Gar. A few weeks later, Edgar finds his father in the barn, dying mysteriously. After unsuccessfully trying to call for help, Edgar watches his father die.Three Griefs -After burying Gar, Edgar and Trudy decide to keep the family business running, despite the new workload. However, shortly after beginning to adjust to Gar's death, Trudy catches pneumonia and Edgar attempts to carry on the work without her. Before long, two dogs end up in a vicious fight. With both dogs injured and their vet out of town, they must call on Claude for assistance. After he helps treat the dogs and Trudy recovers, they begin to sleep together.One night not long after, Edgar wakes to the dogs barking and goes to investigate. Searching around in a storm for what was causing the dogs to bark, he sees the outline of his father's ghost in the rain. Through signs, Edgar is led to the syringe that most likely killed his father – one that he has seen Claude use before.What Hands Do -After Edgar confirms for sure that his mother and Claude are indeed romantically involved, he struggles to live under the same roof with his uncle. He comes to seek confirmation for his suspicions about his father's murder.When a potential buyer comes over to take a look at their dogs, Edgar seizes on the opportunity to test Claude. He stages a scene with the dogs, in which they mimic Claude using a syringe to poison people. One dog touches another with a syringe in its mouth and the touched dog falls over and plays dead. The final dog touches Claude's leg, and when he flinches, Edgar feels he has confirmed his suspicions.Angry at the strange show Edgar put on in front of a buyer, Trudy confronts Edgar and they get in a struggle. In the midst of their argument, Edgar, enraged, seeing a figure he thinks to be Claude, swings a hay hook and sends him tumbling down the stairs, killing him. Trudy discovers that the figure was actually Dr. Papineau, their vet. Scared at what might happen to Edgar because of the death, she tells him to disappear for a while. Three dogs from his litter follow him into the woods.Chequamegon -Edgar drifts in the woods and, without a fishing tackle, is forced to rob the cabins he comes across for food. Eventually he decides to head up to Canada, where there is a commune he hopes to join. Along the way however, one of his dogs is injured, and he is forced to seek help.He goes to a house he has just robbed and the owner, Henry, helps him with the injured dog. He takes to Henry, and agrees to stay there until his dog has healed. Once the dog is healed, Henry offers to give Edgar a ride up north to his destination. En route they are hit by a tornado. In the aftermath, Edgar decides to return home.Poison -Edgar returns home and leaves a note in his house for his mother. Claude finds it before Trudy and tells Glen, a police officer and son of Dr. Papineau, who is suspicious that Edgar caused his father's death. Spooked by Edgar's appearance, Claude moves a bottle of poison in the barn and Edgar catches him. Later, Edgar sees his mother and convinces her to give him a night alone in the barn, so he can search for the poison Claude moved. Meanwhile, Claude and Glen plot to trap Edgar, so Glen can “question” him.Glen surprises Edgar in the barn and tries to kidnap him using a rag soaked in ether. Edgar manages to grab some quicklime and douses Glen in it. It gets in Glen's eyes and he stumbles out of the barn, blinded. The ether hits a lamp and the barn lights on fire. Edgar, worried for the dogs papers, his father's life's work, starts moving them out of the barn while it burns up. Claude has hidden the poison with the papers, though. He pretends to help Edgar take the files out of the barn, grabs the bottle of poison, and when he is not looking, stabs Edgar with a syringe in the burning barn. As Claude waits for the poison to work on Edgar, the barn fills with smoke. Claude is unable to escape and he and Edgar die in the barn. The Sawtelle dogs, who have escaped the fire, leave into the wild.more
Well, I highly doubt that O herself read this. It took about 280 pages for me to actually get into this book, which proves my dedication. I would not call it a must read, but it will serve as a giant trophy on my bookshelf!more
If you train dogs, you'll love this book. If you don't train dogs, or care about things like that... then you probably shouldn't read this book unless you start on page 329--that's where it actually starts getting "interesting." but, even so, parts from them on are still extremely boring, and the end will come and you'll thank the heavens. I couldn't have cared less what happened to any of these characters, and when things did, I didn't feel bad at all.more
Life changing awesomeness!more
One of the most beautifully written books I've ever come across. I've read that there's comparisons to be made between this book and a story of old, but since I was not "front of my brain" familiar with that story, all I can say is that some of the sentences in the book literally took my breath away...they were that beautiful. Like all people that believe that good/right/kindness should prevail in any story, I disliked the ending, but there was something true about it, so I shall be able to live with it. Don't know why we haven't seen this as a movie....and I like it that way.more
This is an excellent novel unto itself. However, if you have read Hamlet, you will quickly realize that this is a modernized version; to me this is just icing on the cake!more
I resisted reading this book when it first came out, as I often do with books that receive an enormous amount of hype. However, my friend and my dog's trainer recently gave the book to me and so I was nudged toward it.I wish I had liked it more. It is often referred to as "Hamlet of Wisconsin" and I suppose the part of the plot involving a ghostly father and a an uncle hopping into Mum's bed justifies the comparison, but frankly, when it comes to Hamlet, I missed Ophelia.Wroblewski can write prose. He uses some terrific phrases and writes a fine description, but I found the pacing very herky-jerky and the character motivations oddly opaque. Several plot lines seemed to fade into nothing (the prophetic old lady for example), and a number of the hinge-events seemed overly sentimental and a little maudlin.As a dog lover, I was at first charmed by the detail the author puts into the descriptions of dog behavior and psychology, but page after page after page of it inevitably got in the way. I'm surprised an editor didn't ask Wroblewski to choose between writing a dog training/breeding manual and a novel.As I said, I think Wroblewski knows how to turn a phrase (otherwise the book would have earned only 2 stars), I'm afraid in the end I just wasn't interested enough in the characters, or what happened to them, and the fact I enjoyed the brief passages written from Almondine's (one of the dogs) point of view more than anything else, isn't a good sign.more
One of my favourite books. Though marginally a modern take on "Hamlet" it's completely readably without any reference to the original. But my favourite moment in the book is when the author has to deal with the appearance of Dad's ghost. I was so afraid it would be handled cheesily, but it was spectacular! Read that passage again and again for its beauty.more
Was fun to read but not sure what I was supposed to get from it.more
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