Saturday, October 23, 2010

The Story of Edgar Sawtelle (1/3 through)

I took this book along on a recent trip, but only managed to get through about 1/3 of the book.  It is a dense book, full of beautiful descriptions of scenery and the inner workings of a small, Midwestern family.  I have had a few obstacles to enjoying this book -- first, it is a heavy book, meaning that the story it tells is not an easy one.  People and dogs die, even in the very first scene, and the emotional weight of issues like infertility and living with a handicap can be felt early on, too.  Second, the book jacket gave away a plot event that appears about 1/3 of the way into the novel.  I was so disappointed that I read the book jacket and it gave away this plot point that I had to put the book down for a couple of days.  Finally, it is a retelling of a classic story, which I only put together because of a hint my sister-in-law gave me.  I think I sort of know what is coming next because of this, so it takes away some of the drama of the story.  With all that said, though, I am determined to like this book.  It is well-written, with intricate details and an imaginative take on the subjects of dog-rearing, death, and betrayal.  The dogs are central characters, so some people may have a problem with that.  One early chapter is told from the perspective of a dog, which is an attention-grabbing stunt but also an important clue as to what the author is trying to do.  He's building layers of meaning into the story that go well beyond the plot points.  It does seem to take a long time for something to happen, but the author is really building the emotional worlds of the central family and their dogs.  Edgar Sawtelle, the central character, is born mute, and develops his own sign language that his family and friends (especially the dog Almondine) learn to read and speak.  This is a fascinating way of recreating a character who is central to the plot (to give his name is to give away too much).  There are hints throughout as to what story is really being told here, but I don't want to spoil anything for anyone else.  Let's just say there is an Uncle Claude and a mom named Trudy.  That may be enough for some people to put together the story that is being told.  I'm looking forward to the rest of the story unfolding in this unique way.
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