Saturday, April 11, 2009

Canis Posterus: A Reflection on The Story of Edgar Sawtelle.

As a visual artist, I am often extremely jealous of the tools that novelists can use to take their readers out of themselves, and out of the world, for great lengths of time. I just finished reading the long, winding and incredibly mysterious The Story of Edgar Sawtelle, David Wroblewski's debut novel. I spent days in Wroblewski's world of eerily wise dogs, ghostly storms, painfully strong familial bonds, death, tragedy, strange communication, and reunion. The story weaves in elements of Hamlet, Moby Dick, and The Jungle Book, and leaves you with a strange feeling of familiarity and connection...

It's the story of Edgar, a mute adolescent human, who lives on a farm with his family and his canine companion Almondine, where he helps out with the family dog breeding business. It's a special, fictional breed of dog--Sawtelle Dogs--and they are bred for particular personality traits and for uncanny wisdom. Edgar's life is idyllic with his mother, father, sister-dog Almondine and the other Sawtelle Dogs, until his uncle Claude comes to stay with them. Soon after Claude appears, Edgar's father is dead, and Edgar finds himself in an impossible situation. He leaves the farm with three young dogs, on a journey away from everything he loves.

This is not a dog story, exactly, although it is filled with dogs--very special dogs. As a dog person, I did truly love it. Almondine is my dog; she is your dog; she represents that strange, unexplainable understanding between a human and a dog that seems to trace back to the beginning of time. I also loved how this book pushed hard against my sense of what is real; how it gave me a glimpse into the insides of an animal's mind that I found both warm and frightening; and how it is haunting my insides now that I've finished reading it. It is a dark tale, and the final chapters left me in a state of agony... but something permanent came off of those pages and will stick around in my heart.

I read a lot of enraged reviews of this book by people who were utterly unable to accept the way it ends. It is indeed tragic, and very painful, and there are many questions left unanswered. But I think the unanswered questions are contributing to my sense that the story isn't over, and never will be, and that the Sawtelle Dogs are out there right now, waiting for me to find them.

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