The Story Of Edgar Sawtelle

Hardcover | December 10, 2010


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A riveting family saga, The Story of Edgar Sawtelle explores the deep and ancient alliance between humans and dogs, and the power of fate through one boy’s epic journey into the wild.

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 companion. But with the unexpected return of Claude, Edgar's uncle, turmoil consumes the Sawtelle's 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. Edgar flees into the vast wilderness lying beyond the farm. He 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.

Wroblewski is a master storyteller, and his breathtaking scenes – the elemental north woods, the sweep of seasons, an iconic American barn, a ghost made of falling rain – create a family saga that is at once a brilliantly inventive retelling of Hamlet, an exploration of the limits of language, and a compulsively readable modern classic.

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From the Publisher

A riveting family saga, The Story of Edgar Sawtelle explores the deep and ancient alliance between humans and dogs, and the power of fate through one boy’s epic journey into the wild.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 S...

From the Jacket

A riveting family saga, The Story of Edgar Sawtelle explores the deep and ancient alliance between humans and dogs, and the power of fate through one boy’s epic journey into the wild.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 S...

David Wroblewski grew up in rural Wisconsin, not far from the Chequamegon National Forest where the novel is set. He earned an MFA from the Warren Wilson MFA Program for Writers. This is his first novel.

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$12.19 online$15.73list price(save 22%)
The Story Of Edgar Sawtelle
The Story Of Edgar Sawtelle

Audio Book (CD)|Jul 14 2015


see all books by DAVID WROBLEWSKI
Format:HardcoverDimensions:576 pages, 9.6 × 6.22 × 1.39 inPublished:December 10, 2010Publisher:Doubleday CanadaLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0385664788

ISBN - 13:9780385664783

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Rated 3 out of 5 by from Edgar Sawtelle Edgar Sawtelle hears perfectly, but he can't speak. He uses sign to communicate with his family, a small circle of acquaintances, and the genetically gifted Sawtelle dogs in the kennel his family owns and operates. Edgar, his mother and father, and a wayward uncle live a story of playfulness, grief, manipulation, wandering in the wilderness, divination, hauntings, revenge, and plans gone awry. Published in 2008, this was a first novel for David Wroblewski. An Oprah endorsement sent the book to the best sellers list and prompted a long list of enthusiastic endorsements from well-known authors. Oprah is now producing a movie based on the book. Wroblewski is a skilled literary writer who crafts beautifully descriptive passages. He tells the story from the points of view of different characters, and he handles the transitions well. All the different voices ring true. The voice of Almondine, Edgar's closest dog friend, is particularly moving. Wroblewski is literary almost to a fault. Occasionally the writing veers into being so artsy as to be misunderstood: "During the night a white tide had swallowed the earth." What happened? What's kind of tide? He is evasive in action scenes when he should just tell us what happened:"The act itself took just an instant. When it was done he backed away . . ." What act? What happened? The reader has to pause for a second to try to figure things out and then keep reading to get context for what is going on. Despite the beauty of the writing, I found reading the book to be a bit of a slog. My hardcover copy has 562 pages. The story would have been more effectively told in 462. Wroblewski repeats detailed descriptions of dog training sessions, over and over. He might have done this to symbolically represent the everyday, repetitive nature of dog training. It works symbolically, but it clogs the arteries of the story movement. Wroblewski also leaves too many unanswered questions. He hints at events in the backgrounds of the main characters, but doesn't clarify them enough to satisfy. A little mystery and room for speculation is good, but . . . Often when a movie based on a book comes out, the book provides a fuller, richer version of the story. Readers of the book feel a little cheated by what has to be left out to fit the story into a movie format. In this case, the reverse is true. This story will benefit from being boiled down to its essence. And now that I've read the book, I look forward to seeing if the movie will hint at answers to some of those unanswered questions.
Date published: 2012-09-05
Rated 4 out of 5 by from The Story of Edgar Sawtelle WOW what a great story, and the ending was one really big surprise, this book will keep you up until your done
Date published: 2011-09-16
Rated 1 out of 5 by from A good editor can make it or break it! I'm not really sure how to rate this one. On one hand, the beginning was fairly decent, I was engaged with the story, it was moving forward. On the other hand, it completely fell off the tracks somewhere around the middle, and I checked out of the story completely. So, I didn't completely hate it, but, I can't honestly say it wasn't bad either... So there you have it!
Date published: 2011-03-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from High Literature with a Canine Twist There is so much to comment on from this novel that it's difficult to know where to start. It's Shakespeare's "Hamlet" in a kennel; it's a murder mystery and a ghost story; there's an element of the supernatural and magic realism throughout; it's a coming-of-age story set in America's geographic and historical heartland; it's so infused with dogs that they even become the narrative center of consciousness in a few chapters. But none of that actually does justice to this generous, literary, heartfelt text. The writing is remarkable, often bordering on poetic. The story is fast-paced too, so much so that I finished the last 150 pages in one sitting. For me, though, it was the human touch that really resonated --the bond between dogs and their people, the way families care for each other and sometimes let one another down, and how strangers can enter one anothers' lives and change everything from ordinary to extraordinary. At times, in fact, the literary quality of the novel gets in the way of how excellent the book really is. If you are familiar with "Hamlet" you'll recognize the ghostly father scene, the Oedipal issues and a "play within a play" unlike any other. The worst part about the "Hamlet" parallel is knowing what an unhappy ending Shakespeare's play promises, and hoping so much that Edgar doesn't meet the same fate. The novel demands attention; often, I let my mind wander --mostly to thoughts about my own dog-- and missed an important sentence or phrase, having to go back later and discover what I missed. Like all good poetry and integral writing, the narrative demands something back from us. In the end, though, THE STORY OF EDGAR SAWTELLE stands very well on its own. Maybe the novel could've used a bit of editing but I enjoyed the lush writing so much that I wouldn't omit a word. I'll never forget Edgar and his family, and especially Almondine, Henry, Essay, Tinder and Baboo. If Sawtelle dogs were real, I'd be first in line to buy an entire litter. If you like dogs and love great writing, give this novel a chance and stick with the longer, drawn-out parts. It's well worth reading and Edgar's story will stay in your heart long after the final page.
Date published: 2010-08-23
Rated 1 out of 5 by from What A Waste... ...of time. This may be one of the worst books I have ever read. It had no point, the writing was horrible and never did I give a damn about the characters. I would rather have a hangover for about a month than read a chapter of this book again.
Date published: 2010-08-17
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Great Read...until the last 100 pages A very well written book and, for the most of it, I had trouble putting it down at times. BUT...the ending was a let down for me. I would have given this book 4 stars, had it not been for the ending :( I was really into this book up until the point Edgar returned home. I feel like the ending left me hanging with a lot of unanswered questions.
Date published: 2010-04-22
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Great story, though a little confusing at times Edgar Sawtelle lives with his parents in Wisconsin on a farm that sells Sawtelle dogs. Between Edgar, his dad Gar, and his mom Trudy, they manage to train the pups until they are ready for placement with families. Each one of the is responsible for a different part of the process. Edgar is a mute who communicates through his own form of sign language. The only one who seems to really understand Edgar is his dog Almondine. She has been his friend since birth and is always by his side. When Gar brings his brother Claude back to the farm after being released from jail, the dynamics change. Claude and Gar argue a lot and Edgar doesn't quite understand why. When Gar dies, it's up to Edgar to help keep the business alive and learn everything he can about his grandther's vision for the Sawtelle dogs. Claude starts moving in and taking Gar's place in the family which pushes Edgar to his limits. What results is a story of finding oneself in adversity and the journey required to get there. This book is divided in to different sections and within each you get the perspective of different characters. I really enjoyed Almondine's perspective. She is such a wise and loyal dog and it was amazing how she understood that Edgar couldn't communicate as soon as he was brought home. These chapters seemed like some of the most important ones in the novel. This novel was definitely a page-turner. Yet there were some passages that I didn't quite understand. At first I wasn't sure if it was because I was reading the book too quickly but I went back and re-read and still couldn't get a clear picture of things. Maybe the author left some of these items partially explained because he wanted the reader to use their imagination? I really enjoyed this book even though I hated some of the characters and didn't feel too good about where the book was going. But that's part of what makes a book so good I guess!
Date published: 2009-11-01
Rated 2 out of 5 by from well written but not engaging (to me at least) When B. pulled The Story of Edgar Sawtelle out of her bag at last month’s book club reveal there was a silent sigh of dismay. I know I felt it. Despite the fact that the book has garnered heaps of praise and was flying off the shelf at Indigo last summer, I had no desire to read it. When my friend said she was going to take it with her when she went to England with her mom I said: “Don’t do it; this book weighs a ton!” As it turned out, of the ten members of my book club I was (along with B.) the only person who read it. Er…finished it. One person got about half way through, a few others read 50-100 pages. The book is l-o-n-g…562 pages but lest you think I actually judge a book by its length, let me say that The Story of Edgar Sawtelle is very well written. I would have said that dog lovers would eat this book up- but this wasn’t the case with the dog lovers in my book club; none of them finished. It’s hard to put my finger on exactly why I didn’t love this book in the way most others have- well, the critics at least, who have compared this book to Shakespeare, an “American Hamlet” even (Mark Doty). The book concerns the Sawtelle family, parents Trudy and Gar and their son, Edgar, who is born mute. They live on a farm in Wisconsin where they breed dogs known as the ‘Sawtelle’ dogs, remarkable because they can read Edgar’s signs. When Gar’s younger brother, Claude, returns to the farm Edgar’s idyllic life starts to unravel and when his father dies suddenly, Edgar’s grief is palpable. As Claude grows closer to his mother and assumes more of a role on the farm, Edgar becomes obssessed with proving that Claude had something to do with his father’s death. Things don’t work out quite as Edgar plans though, and he leaves the farm, taking three ‘Sawtelle’ dogs with him. Eventually, though, he returns to the farm to confront his uncle – with dramatic results. (I actually thought the ending was spectacularly melodramatic.) Why do some books work and others not so much? I can’t fault Wroblewski’s writing. In some ways I felt like he jammed the book with every possible theme, like maybe this debut might mark the beginning and end of his literary career. Ultimately, though, there was just too much ‘dog talk’ – sits and stays and day-to-day kennel business that just wasn’t of interest to me and, in some ways, diluted the book’s larger themes of revenge and love. It wasn’t that I had a hard time reading the book…I just never really invested my heart in Edgar’s story
Date published: 2009-06-24
Rated 4 out of 5 by from The Story of Edgar Sawtelle Edgar Sawtelle is born unable to make a sound, but he is able to hear and see and has a great intellect and a way with words. Crosswords pose no challenge for Edgar who has a vast vocabulary, which is an oxymoron for someone born mute. "The Story of Edgar Sawtelle" by David Wroblewski takes place on a dog breeding farm. Edgar helps his mother Trudy and his father Gar run the breeding program. Gar’s goal is to breed the ultimate dog and he spends many hours recording the canine’s pedigrees. Claude the younger brother of Gar eventually makes an appearance and competiveness and strife and deep past events scar their relationship. Claude is in possession of a poison that gives him a power he is unable to let go of, even though it frightens him. Gar is murdered by Claude and no one is aware of this except for Edgar. Trudy is devastated by the loss of Gar and Claude seems to replace him, much to Edgar's anguish. Edgar becomes involved in an unfortunate accident which leads to the death of the veterinarian and he flees home with three young dogs. Edgar finds his way to Henry who shelters him and helps him become strong enough to return home. The return home is not a happy reunion and as in Shakespeare's “Hamlet” the ending of the book is tragic. This story has shadows of "Hamlet" throughout it and it is an intriguing read. However, if you are not a big fan of the canine species this may not be the book for you. Having had a dog as a child I could relate to Edgar and understand the whole dog thing, but for those who have not had that experience all the dog parts may seem boring and long drawn out.
Date published: 2009-06-08
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Really uneven pace I should have trusted my usual instinct when it comes to Oprah's picks ... not usually in agreement with her. However the story about a mute boy and dogs drew me in. The books starts off great and you begin to form a connection with the characters and then it STOPS for a REALLY long time. If I had not paid full price for the hardcover, I probably would have quit on this book at this point. The author definitely loves his adjectives so it was exhausting to read about the pale grey pristine and smoky hazy lazy blah blah blah ... you get my point! It you fight your way through the middle section it picks up again. Not on the top of my list of recommendations.
Date published: 2009-06-02
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Still Speechless Im still not really over the ending of the book, I know it shouldn't have, but it really threw me for a loop. There are so many pros AND cons of this book. The characters came to life out of the pages, but sometimes they did things I found were completely out of character. The writing style was very good, and with some sentences I had to pause and re-read it again because it was such a well put phrase. Also, some parts dragged, while others flew at a pace where I couldn't put the book down. All in all, it was "alright" at the start, it snowballed the "excellent" from the middle to the end, and as for the ending, I STILL don't know what to think. IT was a book that, when I was done with it, I didn't have anything at all to say.
Date published: 2009-05-22
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Am I missing something? Although, at times, I found it hard to put this book down, overall I was very disappointed in it. At times it seemed to drag on with far too much detail about mundane facts and happenings and then not enough detail on more important things. If this review sounds like I am confused that's because I am. The story itself was good but the ending was so very disappointing I wish I hadn't read the book . . . I think . . . or maybe not???
Date published: 2009-04-15
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Is it me or the story does not make sense I didn't like it and I think the reason for that was too much expectations. The story was raved by Oprah as love story between animal and human. I found it too mystic, too unrealistic, long and confusing. Did not love it at all.
Date published: 2009-03-18
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great Read This was a great book, character development was amazing. The story kept you wanting more. It was one of those books that I finished and said "that was a great book"!
Date published: 2009-03-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from awesome!! so descriptive, just stunning
Date published: 2009-02-06
Rated 3 out of 5 by from good - but what a crappy ending I really didn't expect the book to end the way it did. I still liked the book, but would have liked it more if it ended differently
Date published: 2009-01-16
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Is it still good if someone else did it first and better? Did anyone notice that the significant part of the plot was lifted off Shakespeare’s Hamlet? This was essentially a crudely modeled book after that great work of literature with dogs added in and some random characters thrown in for good measure. I am not saying the writing wasn't good because it was generally pleasant but the story was hardly worthy of the kind of endorsement it has received. This book was a gift to me because I am a dog lover but quite honestly, I've read far better books on or with dogs. Over all, I'd rather read Hamlet for human emotional complexity and then Amazing Gracie for a nice dog book. If nothing else they both have flow and originality which this book really didn't possess.
Date published: 2009-01-05
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Brilliant 1st Book I have been a dog lover and owner my whole life, and while I have never owned a 'Sawtelle' dog, I have always surrendered to the unconditional love that only a dog can give. In the book the connection between a boy and his dog/s runs very deep. I became very attached to Edgar, and had to stop reading a couple of times because I was afraid of what might be around the next turn for him. There were a couple of parts of the book that left me thinking 'what the heck'. But overall for a first time author I thought it was outstanding.
Date published: 2008-11-28
Rated 4 out of 5 by from A wonderful mix of tales I listened to this story on unabridged audio from Random House Audio, and it was one of the more moving tales I've enjoyed this year. The story itself is focused around the titular Edgar, who is a boy born without a voice - who becomes aware of a viscous act, and is left without a way to tell the truth. The story has a mix of qualities that I found delightful. The inclusion of the Sawtelle Dogs (a kind of fictional breed) is wonderful, and in the way that 'The Art of Racing in the Rain' made me actually interested in car racing, this book had me interested in dog breeds, raising and training animals, and totally captivated by the fictional dogs themselves. I was surprised by the slight shift into the supernatural of the tale - but welcomed and enjoyed it. All in all, this was a fantastic story, with something to please lovers of many different types of literature. Certainly, I can see why Oprah picked it - the depth of characterization is lovely.
Date published: 2008-10-31
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Wonderful I read all kinds of books and am always looking for something different. This book was IT. The writing is insightful and I found myself with tears coming down my face at the end of this one. The chapters from the dog's point of view were so original I find myself seeing these wonderful animals in such a different way now. Highly recommended.
Date published: 2008-10-29
Rated 1 out of 5 by from What was Oprah thinking?? I was very inspired by Oprah to read this book. Especially being a dog lover, but I have to say that I HATED it! I loved Marley and Me and would recommend it in a heartbeat over this book.
Date published: 2008-10-26
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Dog gone story Edgar has an interesting life for a fourteen year old: he trains dogs with his parents, lives on a farm, and although he can hear perfectly, he can not speak a word. The return of his uncle throws his life into a Shakespearin tailspin. I found this book interesting, but not stunning, or even close to To Kill a Mockingbird, as many have compared it to. It passed the time, and I really liked the dog information, especially Almondine. However, read Marley and Me, or The Art of Racing in the Rain for a better story.
Date published: 2008-10-23
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Good, but not amazing I had the fortune of receiving a copy of this book gratis a few months back at a book preview. Ill be honest, it was the Hamlet angle that piqued my curiosity, but I was definitely charmed by the canine element. In the past, I had always recommended Dean Koontz's Darkest Evening of the Year to dog lovers, as well as Marley and Me, but I feel this one supercedes both books in that respect. There are a lot of interesting ideas presented here regarding the raising and purpose of dogs (including the end goal of what the senior Sawtelles wished for their dogs in the long run). Dogs aside, its a book whose second half can be mapped to the Acts and Scenes of Shakespeare's Hamlet (I especially appreciate Almondine's contribution to it). Even NOT knowing Hamlet, you can still be drawn in by what happens on this dog farm. Unfortunately, beyond that, I don't see what is the big hype over the book. I had seen Oprah's show and read Stephen King's blurb, and am a bit flummoxed by their reactions. It may be the fact that I expected something new to be said with the old story.
Date published: 2008-10-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Extraordinary Debut Novel This is one of those rare novels that captures you from the very beginning and holds you enthralled to the very end. I found myself missing the characters, dogs included, as soon as I turned the last page. It has all elements of a great novel, suspense, mystery, and complicated relationships all wrapped up into a unique story that has the potential to become a modern classic. The writing flows beautifully and enables the reader to easily 'see' the story as it unfolds. It is astonishing that The Story of Edgar Sawtelle is David Wroblewski's debut novel and leaves no question that he is a truly gifted storyteller. I anxiously await his next novel.
Date published: 2008-10-13
Rated 3 out of 5 by from A bit surprised Oprah picked this book! Overall good read. Wasn't on any of my top ten lists, and took a long time to get into, but after it was all said and done, I did enjoy this book. It took some time for me to appreciate the story and what it was about. I am not sure that I would read it again, and it was a bit depressing, but ended as it should.
Date published: 2008-09-24
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Awesome Awesome
Date published: 2008-09-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Best book of 2008 This book has to be the best book I have read in 2008. I would also put it ( and I read a lot! ) as one of the top ten books I have ever read. Purchase this book you will not be disapointed!
Date published: 2008-08-17
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Smart and has dog content As a/the book hound I am particularly drawn to books that are about or have at least one dog character, but this book goes beyond that. With its intelligent re-working of the Hamlet story and some of the best dog characters that you will ever meet, Edgar Sawtelle is a great way to spend a few summer evenings.
Date published: 2008-07-02
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Amazing I loved every page of this book. Well done. Hard to imagine this is the authors first novel!
Date published: 2008-06-30
Rated 5 out of 5 by from *Here* is a writer... ...and *here* is a novel. Chock-full of a love of language, a robust narrative style, but moreover, more importantly, here is an actual *story*, something rare on today's literary fiction landscape. 'Edgar Sawtelle' will appeal to those who love a good story, to those who love intriguing characters, and certainly to those who love dogs. Mr. Wroblewski's accomplishments with this, his début novel, is substantial. Equally so are Stephen King's glowing words, which, I find in reflection, say everything I might lavish on the author, leaving me to simply nod and pass along the book to loved ones, so that they too, might experience the enjoyment I did at reading 'The Story of Edgar Sawtelle'. Congratulations to the author on this storytelling achievement.
Date published: 2008-06-10

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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, expanding 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.

Bookclub 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?

Editorial Reviews

"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