Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Book Look Review "The Story of Edgar Sawtelle"

“The Story of Edgar Sawtelle”
A vacation is when you vacate and leave to go somewhere else. And a staycation is where you stay close by and visit local spots like Seven Peaks Water Park. Then what should we a call it when you don’t even leave the house – a vegecation? If you are planning to vegetate at home this summer I have an excellent book to suggest. “The Story of Edgar Sawtelle” by David Wroblewski is 562 pages long so this vegecation can be a nice long one.

It is a novel set in another time and place. Edgar Sawtelle lives on his family farm with his parents in the North Woods of Wisconsin during the late 1950’s. Past generations of his family bought the remote farm to raise special dogs developed to be perfect companions for the humans chosen to own them. The breed becomes known as Sawtelle dogs and their legendary intelligence spreads as young dogs are carefully placed in new homes. But this is much more than a dog story. It is a story of the relationship between people and their animals and their land. It is the story of Edgar Sawtelle.

After several miscarriages Edgar is born to Trudy and Gar Sawtelle. Their joy is tempered by the discovery that their baby cannot make a sound. He doesn’t appear to be deaf but when his mouth opens to cry, only a breathy whisper emerges. One of the most extraordinary moments in the book happens next. Almondine, the dog who becomes his nanny, has only just met the tiny newcomer but knows that there is a worry being communicated between the parents and the doctor. As the new mother dozes in the rocking chair holding the silent sleeping baby swaddled in a white blanket, Almondine lies at her feet keeping watch. “…a sound reached her ears- a whispery rasp, barely audible, even to her. At first she couldn’t make sense of it…it took her a moment to understand that in this new sound she was hearing distress – to realize that this near-silence was the sound of him wailing. The baby had no voice. It couldn’t make a sound. She saw his mother continue to sleep – she finally understood: the thing that was going to happen was that her time for training was over, and now, at last, she had a job to do.” Almondine then gently wakes Trudy by licking her face.

The Sawtelle family divides the kennel work between them. Young Edgar, despite his physical handicap, begins feeding and caring for the large kennel of dogs in the barn at a very young age. His mother, a remarkably wise and graceful woman, trains the new pups as her husband oversees the breeding, maintenance of the kennel, and running the business operation for the farm. It is an idyllic life for this little family and their dogs. But Gar’s younger brother returns home bringing deception and disaster and driving young Edgar away into the woods where he learns to survive with three young dogs as his companions.

I found it difficult to return from my vegecation. Closing the last page and ending Edgar’s story was difficult. Returning to the reality of a busy schedule filled with tasks and timetables was stressful. But every once in a while my mind drifted back to Edgar Sawtelle and Almondine and I remembered how I felt while reading this great book.

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