Mark Alvin Ligaya

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Book Review: The Story of Edgar Sawtelle

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-Contains Major Spoilers-

What is it about?

It’s an intimate portrait of a character, a teenager who is mute and whose family’s main source of living is training and breeding dogs. It tells the story of Edgar Sawtelle, his parents, their dogs and the people around them during the 1970s, near the Chequamegon National Forest in Wisconsin.

I would classify it as literary fiction since it’s slow-paced and more character-driven rather than plot-driven(though it still has an excellent plot).

How I Discovered It

I stumbled upon it back when Oprah was still on air. So yes, it was an Oprah Book Club recommendation.

General Thoughts

I liked that the novel was very descriptive in terms of the scenes, the internal conflicts and the emotions that the mute protagonist were feeling and thinking. The POV also shifts between major characters, like his parents, the main dog Almondine, and others. The author was inclined, I guess, to be as descriptive as possible because the protagonist was mute and cannot verbally have a dialogue with other characters, so that describing the nuances of body language and still being able to translate that into what was meant was a pretty impressive feat for the author.

A huge chunk of the novel was also about exploring the point of view of dogs and it was a unique experience for me. Almondine was one of the major characters in the novel. She was the Sawtelle family’s dog, and Edgar, the protagonist’s almost “twin” sister(since she was there from the moment he was born).

The theme is about loss and family drama and mystery, because of the nuances and oddities surrounding the death of Edgar’s father. From the onset of the death scene, there was already very subtle questions produced in the readers’ mind — that there might have been foul play involved, though it was done masterfully by the author, David Wroblewski.

There were also paranormal elements since it was made very obvious in the story that Edgar can talk to dead people, though this aspect was felt as minor theme rather than the overarching plot device.

The story was largely character-driven and a deep portrait of rural Wisconsin life, and the complex art and science of the dog breeding and training business.

It was easy to like the protagonist from the start, not only because he likes dogs and they love him back but because the author was very precise in his use of language, working with the very constraint that blights language itself: not being able to talk.

Who Would Like It

Those who are patient readers and who don’t easily get bored by slow narratives. Goodbye Dan Brown fans. Kidding! It was worth the patience though!


4 out of 5 stars