David Wroblewski, 2008, 533 p.
Another Doprah recommendation, blah! I bought this way before she glommed onto it!
I mentioned in a previous post that it was taking me forever to get through The Story of Edgar Sawtelle, and I wasn’t quite sure why. I’d pick it up and read a few pages and then get distracted and move on to something else. I must not have liked it all that much. It never totally connected with my readerly sensibilities, but the writing was pretty good and the dogs were interesting, so I slogged on.
Now, it’s time for a little rant…I think a lot of people want to seem more intelligent than they are (are you listening Oprah?), so they pretend to enjoy novels that are pegged as “literate” and “cerebral” and blather on and on about how the novel touched them and changed their perceptions and yada, yada, yada. Throw the word “Shakespeare” into the mix and everyone hops on the love train. If you read novels that are loosely based on Hamlet and say you love them, then everyone will see that you’re nearly as smart as Stephen Hawking, won’t they? Mensa will be banging on your door any day now! I guess what I’m trying to say is that many reviewers (both paid and unpaid) who have waxed lyrical over the verisimilitude of this so-called literary masterpiece are, well, fibbing. In truth, they feel pretty “meh” about the novel, just like me. If I ever publish a novel and want to get people to read it, I’ll develop a humpback whale as the main character and say the novel is based on Richard III. It’ll be bigger than Harry Potter!
The Story of Edgar Sawtelle worked best for me when it was solely about the boy and his dogs. My favorite section of the novel was the lengthy part in the middle when Edgar was on the run with several of his companions. It was beautiful and moving and everything the rest of the book should have been, but wasn’t. For a story this big, I felt that the scope of most of the novel was way too small. I grew tired of the farmhouse, and I grew tired of the tedious dog training parts. The dog training blather would have been more effective if Wroblewski had added more “dog chapters” where the reader gets to glimpse the workings of a dog’s mind.
Something was off about the ending as well. Knowing Shakespeare, I was expecting a total free-for-all; a screamin’, shoutin’ showdown, and instead, it just kind of went “putter, putter, putter” like Tuffy the Tugboat. I was blowing raspberries when a particular individual met his fate, because it was so totally anticlimactic. The character (and I) deserved a better sendoff. Every dog, but not every novel, has its day.
If you want to read a good modern Shakespeare influenced novel, try Brave New World by Aldous Huxley or Money by Martin Amis. If The Story of Edgar Sawtelle were a dog, it would be the runt of the litter.