"An excruciatingly captivating read... This book is unforgettable; overwhelmingly recommended."
—Library Journal (starred review)

 

A CLASSSIC IN THE MAKING: Whether you read for the beauty of language or for the intricacies of plot, you will easily fall in love with David Wroblewski’s generous, almost transcendentally lovely debut novel, The Story of Edgar Sawtelle. This is a tale set in rural Wisconsin in the first half of the 20th century, on a farm where the Sawtelles raise a fictional breed of dog. The dogs function like spirits in Shakespeare, or the chorus in Greek tragedy: They color the text with larger meaning yet remain tangibly real, deeply believable as dogs. Edgar is the mute boy who raises them, a mesmerizing fictional hero, primitive and wise. There are passages of language here ("A pair of does sprang over the fence on the north side of the field-two leaps each, nonchalant, long-sustained, falling earthward only as an afterthought...") that make you pause and read again with luxuriant pleasure. Wroblewski's plot is dynamic – page by page compelling – and classical, evoking Hamlet, Antigone, Electra, and Orestes, as Edgar tries to avenge his father's death and his paternal uncle's new place in the affections of his mother. The scope of this book, its psychological insight and lyrical mastery, make it one of the best novels of the year, and a perfect, comforting joy of a book for summer.”

— O Magazine, July 2008

"…a big-hearted novel you can fall into, get lost in and finally emerge from reluctantly, a little surprised that the real world went on spinning while you were absorbed. You haven't heard of the author. David Wroblewski is a 48-year-old software developer in Colorado, and this is his first novel. It's being released with the kind of hoopla once reserved for the publishing world's most established authors. No wonder: The Story of Edgar Sawtelle is an enormous but effortless read, trimmed down to the elements of a captivating story about a mute boy and his dogs. That sets off alarm bells, I know: Handicapped kids and pets can make a toxic mix of sentimentality. But Wroblewski writes with such grace and energy that Edgar Sawtelle never succumbs to that danger. Inspired improbably by the plot of Shakespeare's "Hamlet," this Midwestern tale manages to be both tender and suspenseful…Most of the story comes to us through a masterful, transparent voice: The author, the narrator, the pages -- everything fades away as we're drawn into this engrossing tale….The final section gathers like a furious storm of hope and retribution that brings young Edgar to a destiny he doesn't deserve but never resists. It's a devastating finale, shocking though foretold, that transforms the story of this little family into something grand and unforgettable."

— Washington Post Book World, cover review

Edgar Sawtelle is the utterly disarming teenage hero at the center of David Wroblewski’s wonderful debut novel of the same name. Set on a small farm in rural Wisconsin, The Story of Edgar Sawtelle takes all kind of risks. The hero is mute, a few chapters are narrated from a dog’s point of view, and there are all kinds of ways the novel could have dissolved into a syrupy mess. Instead, Wroblewski creates a tender coming-of-age story and grafts onto it a literary thriller with strong echoes of Shakespeare and The Jungle Book. The result is the most hauntingly impressive debut I’ve read all year…Edgar might be silent, but his story will echo with readers for a long time.

— Christian Science Monitor

"The Great American Novel is something like a unicorn – rare and wonderful, and maybe no more than just a notion. Yet every few years or so, we trip across some semblance of one. Oof! What’s this? Why, it’s The Story of Edgar Sawtelle, a sprawling skein of a yarn about a farm nestled up against the forest primeval, aka the Chequamegon in northern Wisconsin, a place where the drama of nature unfolds daily, ceaselessly—recorded here with preternatural awareness, as if witnessed for the very first time…the story’s both more complicated than it sounds and yet boldly, bald-facedly what it is. How Edgar in time goes about breaking this domestic impasse and strikes out into the wide world will carry you through this novel’s 560-odd pellucid, mythos-riddled pages and leave you crying for more. Fortunately, David Wroblewski seems on the evidence of this extraordinary debut to be the sort of fellow who will oblige us much, much more."

— Elle Magazine, June 2008

“I was initially a bit daunted by the size of David Wroblewski’s The Story of Edgar Sawtelle and his growing reputation as a tremendous new literary voice, but his prose immediately captured me and his characters called to me as if from personal memory. I actually found myself slowing down my reading, fearing I would gobble it up. But halfway through, when Edgar runs away from home, taking three of his family’s famous “Sawtelle dogs” with him – I was lost to the book. Now only was I mesmerized, but I discovered I had used half a box of tissues in the end, not something a guy admits freely. I urge everyone to discover the overwhelming beauty of Wroblewski’s prose and the haunting, beautiful characters he creates. This is the best book I’ve read in a long time. It is a class apart—a 570-page literary novel that has as much emotional punch of anything I have ever read.

— Michael Fraser, Publishers Weekly "Galley Talk", 5/19/2008

"I doubt we'll see a finer literary debut this year than The Story of Edgar Sawtelle. David Wroblewski's got storytelling talent to burn and a big, generous heart to go with it."

— Richard Russo, author of Bridge of Sighs

"I flat-out loved The Story of Edgar Sawtelle. Dog-lovers in particular will be riveted by this story, because the canine world has never been explored with such imagination or emotional resonance. Yet in the end, this isn't a novel about dogs or heartland America — although it is a deeply American work of literature. It's a novel about the human heart, and the mysteries that live there, understood but impossible to articulate. Yet in the person of Edgar Sawtelle, a mute boy who takes three of his dogs on a brave and dangerous odyssey, Wroblewski does articulate them, and splendidly. I closed the book with that regret readers feel only after experiencing the best stories: It's over, you think, and I won't read another one this good for a long, long time.
      In truth, there has never been a book quite like The Story of Edgar Sawtelle. I thought of Hamlet when I was reading it (of course... and in this version, Ophelia turns out to be a dog named Almondine), and Watership Down, and The Night of the Hunter, and The Life of Pi — but halfway through, I put all comparisons aside and let it just be itself.
      I'm pretty sure this book is going to be a bestseller, but unlike some, it deserves to be. It's also going to be the subject of a great many reading groups, and when the members take up Edgar, I think they will be apt to stick to the book and forget the neighborhood gossip.
      Wonderful, mysterious, long and satisfying: readers who pick up this novel are going to enter a richer world. I envy them the trip. I don't reread many books, because life is too short. I will be rereading this one."

— Stephen King, author of Duma Key

"This remarkable hybrid seems like an impossibility: an American 'Hamlet,' both ghost story and melodrama, a coming of age tale, a hymn to the land — and, central to it all, some of the best writing about the inner lives of dogs anywhere. The Story of Edgar Sawtelle is a wooly, unlikely, daring book, and wildly satisfying."

— Mark Doty, author of Dog Years

"In this beautifully written novel, David Wroblewski creates a remarkable hero who lives in a world populated as much by dogs as by humans, governed as much by the past as by the present. The Story of Edgar Sawtelle is a passionate, absorbing, and deeply surprising debut."

— Margot Livesey, author of The House on Fortune Street

"You’ll be hearing a lot about this book I guarantee. It’s a bestseller for sure and if not, I don’t deserve my job. It’s a tremendous, emotional, gripping debut..."

— Megan Sullivan, bookdwarf.com

"A literary thriller with commercial legs, this stunning debut is bound to be a bestseller. In the backwoods of Wisconsin, the Sawtelle family—Gar, Trudy and their young son, Edgar—carry on the family business of breeding and training dogs. Edgar, born mute, has developed a special relationship and a unique means of communicating with Almondine, one of the Sawtelle dogs, a fictional breed distinguished by personality, temperament and the dogs' ability to intuit commands and to make decisions. Raising them is an arduous life, but a satisfying one for the family until Gar's brother, Claude, a mystifying mixture of charm and menace, arrives. When Gar unexpectedly dies, mute Edgar cannot summon help via the telephone. His guilt and grief give way to the realization that his father was murdered; here, the resemblance to Hamlet resonates. After another gut-wrenching tragedy, Edgar goes on the run, accompanied by three loyal dogs. His quest for safety and succor provides a classic coming-of-age story with an ironic twist. Sustained by a momentum that has the crushing inevitability of fate, the propulsive narrative will have readers sucked in all the way through the breathtaking final scenes."

— Publishers Weekly (starred review)

"Edgar Sawtelle is a boy without a voice, but his world, populated by the dogs his family breeds, is anything but silent. This is a remarkable story about the language of friendship—a language that transcends words."

— Dalia Sofer, author of The Septembers of Shiraz

"Set in Wisconsin, this deeply nuanced epic tells the story of a boy, his dog, and much more. Father, son, and even dog take turns narrating before the story is told primarily by the inexplicably mute Edgar Sawtelle. Part mystery, part Hamlet, the story opens with a sinister and seemingly unrelated scene that begins to make sense as the narrative progresses. The rich depiction of Edgar's family, who are breeders of unique dogs, creates a warm glow that contrasts sharply with the cold evil that their family contains. This tension, along with a little salting of the paranormal, makes this an excruciatingly captivating read. Readers examine the concept of choice, the choice of the dogs in their relationship with people, and the choice of people in their acquiescence to or rejection of their perceived destiny. Ultimately liberating, though tragic and heart-wrenching, this book is unforgettable; overwhelmingly recommended for all libraries."

— Library Journal (starred review)

"A stately, wonderfully written debut novel that incorporates a few of the great archetypes: a disabled but resourceful young man, a potential Clytemnestra of a mom and a faithful dog.
   Writing to such formulas, with concomitant omniscience and world-weariness, has long been the stuff of writing workshops. Wroblewski is the product of one such place, but he seems to have forgotten much of what he learned there: He takes an intense interest in his characters; takes pains to invest emotion and rough understanding in them; and sets them in motion with graceful language (and, in eponymous young Edgar’s case, sign language). At the heart of the book is a pup from an extremely rare breed, thanks to a family interest in Mendelian genetics; so rare is Almondine, indeed, that she finds ways to communicate with Edgar that no other dog and human, at least in literature, have yet worked out. Edgar may be voiceless, but he is capable of expressing sorrow and rage when his father suddenly dies, and Edgar decides that his father’s brother, who has been spending a great deal of time with Edgar’s mother, is responsible for the crime. That’s an appropriately tragic setup, and Edgar finds himself exiled to the bleak wintry woods—though not alone, for he is now the alpha of his own very special pack. The story takes Jungle Book-ish turns: “He blinked at the excess moonlight in the clearing and clapped for the dogs. High in the crown of a charred tree, an owl revolved its dished face, and one branch down, three small replicas followed. Baboo came at once. Tinder had begun pushing into the tall grass and he turned and trotted back.” It resolves, however, in ways that will satisfy grown-up readers. The novel succeeds admirably in telling its story from a dog’s-eye view that finds the human world very strange indeed.
   An auspicious debut: a boon for dog lovers, and for fans of storytelling that eschews flash. Highly recommended."

— Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

Liz's Pick of the Year: The Story of Edgar Sawtelle (by David Wroblewski) is the best book I've read since The Highest Tide! A GRAND saga about family, a boy, dogs, and growing up that will keep you reading all night and make you wish that it hadn't ended.

— Liz Murphy, The Learned Owl Bookstore