The Story of Edgar Sawtelle: A Novel (Oprah Book Club #62)

By David Wroblewski
Binding:Hardcover
Publisher:Ecco, (9/19/2008)
Language:English



Average Rating:
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3.40 out of 5 (5 Clubie's ratings)


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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.

 
 

Laura Libro's thoughts on "The Story of Edgar Sawtelle: A Novel (Oprah Book Club #62)"
updated on:5/25/2009



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Lisa Buettner's thoughts on "The Story of Edgar Sawtelle: A Novel (Oprah Book Club #62)"
updated on:5/25/2009

Sad. I would have ended it differently. A long read to wind up in such a depressing end. No sense of redemption whatsoever. But I'm more partial to happy endings. Couldn't recommend to anyone as a good read.

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LisaL's thoughts on "The Story of Edgar Sawtelle: A Novel (Oprah Book Club #62)"
updated on:5/15/2009

It was all or nothing...some of us loved it and some of us HATED it. Lively discussion.

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Sha's thoughts on "The Story of Edgar Sawtelle: A Novel (Oprah Book Club #62)"
updated on:5/4/2009

i wanted to find a way to get the book for free....

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Dia's thoughts on "The Story of Edgar Sawtelle: A Novel (Oprah Book Club #62)"
updated on:4/1/2009



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"The Story of Edgar Sawtelle: A Novel (Oprah Book Club #62)"
By David Wroblewski

Average Rating:
Unleash it
3.40 out of 5 (5 Clubie's ratings)


The Gentleman
The Gentleman
By Forrest Leo

 
 
 General reading guide discussion questions to be used with ANY book your book club or reading group might be discussing.
 
 

Questions for Discussion

A warning: discussion questions can be—and probably must be—spoilers. Read on at your own risk!

1. How would Edgar's story have been different if he had been born with a voice? How would Edgar himself have been different? Since Edgar can communicate perfectly well in sign most of the time, why should having a voice make any difference at all?

2. At one point in this story, Trudy tells Edgar that what makes the Sawtelle dogs valuable is something that cannot be put into words, at least by her. By the end of the story, Edgar feels he understands what she meant, though he is equally at a loss to name this quality. What do you think Trudy meant?

3. How does Almondine's way of seeing the world differ from the human characters in this story? Does Essay's perception (which we can only infer) differ from Almondine's? Assuming that both dogs are examples of what John Sawtelle dubbed canis posterus, "the next dogs", what specifically can they do that other dogs cannot?

4. In what ways have dog training techniques changed in the last few decades? Do Edgar's own methods change over the course of the story? If so, why? Do different methods of dog training represent a trade-off of some kind, or are certain methods simply better? Would it be more or less difficult to train a breed of dogs that had been selected for many generations for their intellect?

5. Haunting is a prominent motif in The Story of Edgar Sawtelle. How many ghosts, both literal and figurative, are in this story? In what ways are the ghosts alike? Who is haunted, and by whom?

6. One of the abiding mysteries in Edgar's life concerns how his parents met. In fact, Edgar is an inveterate snoop about it. Yet when Trudy finally offers to tell him, he decides he'd rather not know. What does that reveal about Edgar's character or his state of mind? Do you think he might have made a different decision earlier in the story?

7. At first glance, Henry Lamb seems an unlikely caretaker for a pair of Sawtelle dogs, yet Edgar feels that Tinder and Baboo will be safe with him. What is it about Henry that makes him fit? Would it have been better if Edgar had placed the dogs with someone more experienced? Why doesn't Edgar simply insist that all the dogs return home with him?

8. Claude is a mysterious presence in this story. What does he want and when did he start wanting it? What is his modus operandi? Would his methods work in the real world, or is such behavior merely a convenient trope of fiction? Two of the final chapters are told from Claude's point of view. Do they help explain his character or motivation?

9. In one of Edgar's favorite passages from The Jungle Book, Bagheera tells Mowgli that he was once a caged animal, until "one night I felt that I was Bagheera—the Panther—and no man's plaything, and I broke the silly lock with one blow of my paw and came away." There is a dialectic in Edgar's story that is similarly concerned with the ideas of wildness and domestication. How does this manifest itself? What is the "wildest" element in the story? What is the most "domestic"?

10. Mark Doty has called The Story of Edgar Sawtelle "an American Hamlet." Certainly, there are moments that evoke that older drama, but many other significant story elements do not. Edgar's encounter with Ida Paine is one example out of many. Are other Shakespearean plays evoked in this story? Consider MacbethRomeo and JulietOthello, and The Tempest. In what sense isThe Story of Edgar Sawtelle like all Elizabethan stage drama? Is it important to know (or not know) that the story is, at some level, a retelling of an older tale? Do you think Elizabethan audiences were aware that Hamlet was itself a retelling of an older story?

11. Until it surfaces later in the story, some readers forget entirely about the poison that makes its appearance in the Prologue; others never lose track of it. Which kind of reader were you? What is the nature of the poison? When the man and the old herbalist argue in the Prologue, who did you think was right?

12. In the final moments of the story, Essay must make a choice. What do you think she decides, and why? Do you think all the dogs will abide by her decision?

Clubie Submitted Discussion Questions
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Amazon.com Review
Amazon Best of the Month, June 2008: It's gutsy for a debut novelist to offer a modern take on Hamlet set in rural Wisconsin--particularly one in which the young hero, born mute, communicates with people, dogs, and the occasional ghost through his own mix of sign and body language. But David Wroblewski's extraordinary way with language in The Story of Edgar Sawtelle immerses readers in a living, breathing world that is both fantastic and utterly believable. In selecting for temperament and a special intelligence, Edgar's grandfather started a line of unusual dogs--the Sawtelles--and his sons carried on his work. But among human families, undesirable traits aren't so easily predicted, and clashes can erupt with tragic force. Edgar's tale takes you to the extremes of what humans must endure, and when you're finally released, you will come back to yourself feeling wiser, and flush with gratitude. And you will have remembered what magnificent alchemy a finely wrought novel can work. --Mari Malcolm

Praise from Stephen King

"I flat-out loved The Story of Edgar Sawtelle, and spent twelve happy evenings immersed in the world David Wroblewski has created. As I neared the end, I kept finding excuses to put the book aside for a little, not because I didn't like it, but because I liked it too much; I didn't want it to end. Dog-lovers in particular will find themselves riveted by this story, because the canine world has never been explored with such imagination and emotional resonance. Yet in the end, this isn't a novel about dogs or heartland America--although it is a deeply American work of literature. It's a novel about the human heart, and the mysteries that live there, understood but impossible to articulate. Yet in the person of Edgar Sawtelle, a mute boy who takes three of his dogs on a brave and dangerous odyssey, Wroblewski does articulate them, and splendidly. 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.

In truth, there's never been a book quite like The Story of Edgar Sawtelle. I thought of Hamlet when I was reading it, 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.

I'm pretty sure this book is going to be a bestseller, but unlike some, it deserves to be. It's also going to be the subject of a great many reading groups, and when the members take up Edgar, I think they will be apt to stick to the book and forget the neighborhood gossip.

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."

--This text refers to the Hardcover edition. 

From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. A literary thriller with commercial legs, this stunning debut is bound to be a bestseller. In the backwoods of Wisconsin, the Sawtelle family—Gar, Trudy and their young son, Edgar—carry on the family business of breeding and training dogs. Edgar, born mute, has developed a special relationship and a unique means of communicating with Almondine, one of the Sawtelle dogs, a fictional breed distinguished by personality, temperament and the dogs' ability to intuit commands and to make decisions. Raising them is an arduous life, but a satisfying one for the family until Gar's brother, Claude, a mystifying mixture of charm and menace, arrives. When Gar unexpectedly dies, mute Edgar cannot summon help via the telephone. His guilt and grief give way to the realization that his father was murdered; here, the resemblance to Hamlet resonates. After another gut-wrenching tragedy, Edgar goes on the run, accompanied by three loyal dogs. His quest for safety and succor provides a classic coming-of-age story with an ironic twist. Sustained by a momentum that has the crushing inevitability of fate, the propulsive narrative will have readers sucked in all the way through the breathtaking final scenes. (June) 
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcoveredition. 

From The New Yorker
Set in rural nineteen-seventies Wisconsin, this loose retelling of Hamlet focusses on Edgar, a boy born mute and with a preternatural ability to commune with the dogs whose breeding and training is his family’s business. Idyllic routine is threatened when Edgar’s ne’er-do-well uncle comes to live with the family, and the menace persists even after his sudden departure. Soon afterward, Edgar’s father dies of an apparent aneurysm; Edgar becomes convinced, but can’t prove, that his uncle—who soon inserts himself back into the family—is to blame. In this début novel, Wroblewski illustrates the relationship between man and canine (at times, from the dog’s point of view) in a way that is both lyrical and unsentimental, and demonstrates an ability to create a coherent, captivating fictional world in which even supernatural elements feel entirely persuasive. 
Copyright ©2008Click here to subscribe to The New Yorker --This text refers to the Hardcover edition. 

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

"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)

"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

"I flat-out loved The Story of Edgar Sawtelle.... Wonderful, mysterious, long and satisfying….I don’t re-read many books, because life is too short. I will be re-reading this one." -- Stephen King

"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

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

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

"…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

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

Review
"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 --This text refers to the Hardcover edition. 

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About the Author

David Wroblewski grew up in rural Wisconsin, not far from the Chequamegon National Forest where The Story of Edgar Sawtelle is set. He earned his master's degree from the Warren Wilson MFA Program for Writers and now lives in Colorado with his partner, the writer Kimberly McClintock, and their dog, Lola. This is his first novel.



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