Passing the summer in the pages of a book
I didn’t read as many books as usual this summer. This is partly because two of the books on my list, “The Bible”, and “The Odyssey: A Modern Sequel”, are mammoth, but mostly because I’ve figured out how to play this game on my cell phone; it’s much easier to numb the brain than expand it. I’m also surprised by how heavy the subjects of most of these books are. No light summer reads for me.
Despite having been selected for Oprah’s Book Club and consequently becoming a New York Times bestseller, my first selection, “The Story of Edgar Sawtelle,” is a good book. I began reading it on a hellish flight to Maui (you feel no pity, but a kid screamed the whole five hours), and my self-control is so poor that I could not put it down upon arriving on the island. Having never done drugs, I found the experience of sitting in a tropical paradise reading a tragedy set in the Wisconsin winter to be quite trippy, but the book was just that good.
Though based on Hamlet, with a dash of Macbeth and a few spoonfuls of The Jungle Book, among others, Wrobleski’s story is no cutesy mash-up with dogs thrown in for kicks. It is a shimmering, searing, staggering accomplishment, obviously the work of many years.
At the surface, the plot hews closely to that of Hamlet. A boy’s father dies mysteriously after his wayward uncle comes back into his family’s life. The uncle takes up with boy’s mother and chases boy off. Boy discovers his uncle murdered his father and seeks revenge. Everybody dies in one form or another, whether emotionally or physically.
But, the details make all the difference in the world.
The story is set on the Sawtelle family farm in Wisconsin in the ’50s. The family breeds and raises a special breed of dog, which are meant to exercise their own judgment.
The main character, Edgar, is a 12-year-old mute obsessed with language and is in love with his parents and dogs. One never thinks Edgar is crazy or cruel, which is hard not to think of Hamlet. Wrobleski’s Ophelia is a dog, with a delicate, believably rendered inner life; some of the most beautiful passages are told from her point of view.
The plot is set in motion when Edgar’s father’s brother comes to live with them after being released from prison. Claude, Edgar’s uncle, and Gar, Edgar’s father, don’t get along, but his father dies of an aneurysm after Claude moves out. Edgar has to use his intuition and guidance from his father’s ghost to find out the truth.
The ghost is so wonderfully conjured – as a hesitation in the falling rain – that I am jealous I will never see such a phenomenon. Edgar’s mother’s reasons for taking up with her dead husband’s brother are understandable and justifiable. The descriptions of the scenery make me want to move to Wisconsin, and the scenes with the witch are jittery and funny at the same time. All in all, I highly recommend this book.
What Sarah Read
“The Story of Edgar Sawtelle” by David Wrobleski.
“When You are Engulfed In Flames” by David Sedaris
“Blue Like Jazz: Nonreligious Thoughts on Christian Spirituality” by Donald Miller
“The Odyssey: A Modern Sequel” by Nikos Kazantzakis, translated from the Greek by Kimon Friar
“Much Ado About Nothing” by William Shakespeare
“The Confessions of St. Augustine” translated by Rex Warner
“The Catcher in the Rye” by J. D. Salinger
“Slaughterhouse-Five” by Kurt Vonnegut
“Selected Poems” by Czeslaw Milosz
“Without End: New and Selected Poems” by Adam Zagajewski
“Eternal Enemies” by Adam Zagajewski