Review Blog

Dec 16 2008

The story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski

cover image

Fourth Estate, 2008.
ISBN 9780007265022
(Age Senior to adult). This most unusual thriller, nearly 600 pages long, has psychic elements combined with murder, arson and dog breeding. With touches of Shakespeare's Hamlet, the story resolves itself in much the same way, bodies littering the pages at the end of the novel.
Edgar Sawtelle is the third generation of a Wisconsin family which breeds a dog now called Sawtelles. Born mute but able to hear, Edgar was their last chance to have a child. This self contained family; Trudy, the mother who does much of the training, and her husband Gar, who keeps the records, and sells the dogs retaining contact with the buyers, work with his brother Claude. Edgar learns to train with signs, dogs having to watch him all the time, which people recognise as a feature of these animals. The dogs are trained and kept until they are 12-18 months old before they are sold. Grandfather and father have kept meticulous records of breeding lines, along with photographs and information about where the dogs have gone. One dog called Almondine, is Edgar's constant companion.
The vet is the only regular contact they have. Their lives change when Gar dies. Edgar finds him and alone on the farm, cannot summon help. When Edgar and Trudy try and run the place on their own, Trudy gets pneumonia, so Claude comes to help, Edgar 's world comes to an end when Claude and Trudy begin a relationship and Claude moves in. Edgar decides several times that he will kill Claude and one day when he thinks Claude is coming up the stairs in the barn he makes a move and the vet falls to his death. Edgar runs away taking 3 of the dogs with him.
Surviving by raiding cabins on the lakes, he comes to a farm run by Henry; a loner who takes Edgar and the dogs in after one of the dogs is injured. Edgar comes to believe that his father's death was not natural, and decides he must go home. No one is there, so he leaves a note, setting in train an amazing climax with all the characters involved in a life and death struggle.
This story about making decisions is not your usual tale. Defying any attempt to categorise it, the novel involves a mystery, yet tinged with psychic moments where the future is foretold makes reading about this family tense and unsettling. Based firmly on the relationships between family members, the decisions people make in their lives is shown to have far reaching ramifications. The well trained dogs seem to parallel the decisions made by members of the family, and in the end, the animals make the decision to leave and take charge of their own lives. Mark Knight

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