There is a lot of great ‘modern’ literature out there, but some of it can be exhausting and difficult reading. It was almost a relief, therefore, to read something as solid and familiar as David Wroblewski’s The Story of Edgar Sawtelle. Published in 2008, The Story of Edgar Sawtelle is, none-the-less, a good old-fashioned tale. It is deeply lyrical, densely fleshed, and heavy with emotion and detail. It is a both a coming of age story and a family saga of love and pain, trust and betrayal. Edgar is born mute, the only child of parents who raise and train a special breed of dogs on their farm in northern Wisconsin. When Edgar’s father dies and his uncle appears poised to take his place on the farm and in his mother’s affections, fourteen year old Edgar flees into the Chequamegon National Forest with only his dogs as companions on a quest to come to terms with his grief and face the truth of his father’s death.
At 562 pages The Story of Edgar Sawtelle requires a big investment from the reader, and Wroblewski delivers some beautiful writing, but the novel falls frustratingly short of paying off on that investment. The pace of the story is bogged down with unnecessary characters, irrelevant plot lines, and smatters of magical realism that come too late in the story to be believable. While a great conclusion could have tied it all together, Wroblewski’s ending was so tragic and emotionally unsatisfying that I finished the book in a wave of disappointment. Wroblewski may have got a hold of a little more than he could handle here, and, while his writing skills are definitely up for the challenge, a more critical editorial eye might have helped this story stay truer to its roots.