Monday, February 16, 2009

Book 19: The Story of Edgar Sawtelle

The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski

My mom sent me this book but of course I'd vaguely heard about it previously. When I read the book flaps, I remembered hearing that this was a retelling (reimagining/modernization) of Hamlet, as evidenced by names such as Claude and Trudy. In ways, that actually made this a difficult read - there is only one way for a Shakespearean tragedy to end, and while of course it's easy to feel sympathy for Hamlet and Ophelia in the play, there is also a sense that Hamlet was occasionally acting like a self-righteous jerk. Recognizing the inevitable fate of the fourteen year old mute boy in this novel, however, is a little more depressing. There's no other way it can end, but Edgar deserves his fate even less than Hamlet did.

The first two hundred pages describe Edgar's life on the farm where he and his family raise a special breed of dogs, known for their intelligence and training. While dog breeding isn't exactly a topic I have any interest in (I like cats), the story moved on quickly, and I was curious to see all the intricate details involved in their lives, and learn about Edgar and his family. After Gar, Edgar's father, dies, Edgar and his mother struggle to continue all their duties on the farm and deal with their grief. Eventually, they turn to Claude, Gar's estranged brother, for help. At this point, the novel starts to drag a little bit, and continues to drag after Edgar runs away from home. It doesn't really pick up again until Edgar meets and befriends a man named Henry. Like in the original Hamlet, once Edgar returns home, things occur very quickly, partially sped up by Claude's interventions and deceptions.

Being fourteen, Edgar doesn't have an actual love interest - his Ophelia is the dog Almondine. That's one other thing about this novel vs. the play - it's so much easier to deal with people suffering than animals, even fictional animals. Naturally, in addition to not being happy about the fate that awaited Edgar, I didn't want to deal with what would happen to Almondine or see the way Edgar treated her in his anger following his father's death. Overall, I thought it was actually a creative and well-done take on Hamlet (Edgar even uses the dogs to create the original play's play within a play), and the novel was very well-written. I think the middle could have been shortened, but other than that it was definitely worth the time.

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