The Story Of Edgar Sawtelle

I just finished reading The Story Of Edgar Sawtelle. It’s a book I resisted for quite awhile, at least partly because Bookdwarf was so enthusiastic about it, and I just didn’t want to admit that she’s always right about these sorts of things.

Another factor that scared me off was that the book contains dogs. That immediately makes me think it’s one of those dog books – you know, of interest only to dog fanciers. It’s not. I’m pretty sure that people who like anything with dogs in it will like this book. After all, it contains dogs. But it’s not the sort of thing that appeals only to them. It will also appeal to novel-lovers. It’s a tale of family and secrets and betrayal, a northern Wisconsin sort of Hamlet mixed with Lear, a story of almosts, of near-breakthroughs in communication and understanding and perfection.

“The Story Of Edgar Sawtelle” uses the relationships – sometimes beautifully tender and joyful – between people and dogs to reflect more clearly the relationship between humans. Just as even imperfect communication between humans and dogs requires years of training and practice, the mute Edgar is stymied by his own imperfect understanding of the world and by other people’s inability to grasp what he’s saying. And of course, more generally, everyone fails to communicate or hides what should most be unearthed and shared.

No, there’s no happy ending there. Nice dogs, though.

476 thoughts on “The Story Of Edgar Sawtelle”

  1. Finished this book yesterday and spent most of the day in a fog. WHY did Edgar have to die?! I get the whole Hamlet connection, but so much of the story has been left untold. I loved the Henry character, and would like to believe that Essay took her family to him for safe-keeping. I do not like the idea of the dogs going feral. I loved Edgar; the only solace I get is from believing he was reunited with Almondine and his father in the here-after. I kind of feel sorry for Trudy; maybe Henry will come and rescue her, too.

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  2. I have to confess that I, too, have a problem with endings like this, where one or more of the main characters die and we, the readers, are left feeling hopeless and like everything that character learned was wasted, especially in this case. This seems to be a modern trend, and I really wish writers would stop following it. People can die without it seeming pointless. I loved the story and read it and thought I understood it; however, for me, this type of ending really leaves a bitter taste and tends to overshadow the rest of a book. I’ll try to overcome this, though.

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  3. I read this book last year. It is still at the very top of my book list. I loved how Wroblewski wove this tale. I was captivated from the start. What an incredible book. Adventure, tragedy, intrigue, love, murder, jealousy, loyalty – wrought with emotion and relevant, eternal themes. Evokes incredible feelings. Embraceable, if you can take it all in – and worth it you can do so. Ethereal and brilliant, yes sad and so resilient. Tugs at your heart strings and pulls you along – Bravo David!

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  4. The author is a an a HSP (highly sensitive person). We don’t need resolutions because we are immersed in a world of subtleties, intensity, and ambiguity. We experience life at a much deeper level than most in North American society, if the comments posted here are any indication.

    His point is: money can’t buy you happiness. You paid for the book expecting a happy ending; instead, you ended up with an unresolved and “weird” conclusion- it’s called experiencing life at a sophisticated level. You have to get past the Macdonald arches and Walmart sales to get there, and most of you never do. It’s not hubris, just the truth.

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  5. I finished the book yesterday. Not being a Shakespeare buff, I had no framework against which to compare this work. I picked this book after reading positive review. I probably never would have selected it if I had read only a few of the foregoing critiques (particularly Robert of 11/19/09 or )if I had any idea of how very unhappy the ending would be after all the previous losses in the book, Gar, the stillborn, then the little wolf pup.I have been depressed since finishing it. I feel cheated too because no review I read a priori said how depressing and sad it would end. I expected a good outcome.

    And then there’s all those loose ends. What’s the deal with the picture of Forte and Claude? So what? And I guess Claude really killed Forte #1 but I don’t know. I know it’s just a story but geez, did Almondine and Edgar have to die after all they went through everything they did? And when did Almondine die? When he went to look for Edgar, was he killed or was he still alive and came back to die in the fire with Edgar?What was the anger between the two sons about? Was Forte and the new Forte one and the same and was the latter a ghost? What happens to Epi? What did Almondine do that was so wrong? I know he took up with Claude but despite his intelligence, he was a dog for heaven sake. Was he suppose to know that Claude killed Gar? What were those poor dogs to do being shooed away by Edgar particularly the two little pups when the fire started? And why did Claude kill Gar? Was he after Trudy? Was there suppose to be some other significance with the first Vi who Cappy hooked up with and the second Vi that John Sawtelle owned? And what about Schultz? So what?

    I found the first chapter really eerie but then it turned into what I thought would be a really great book until all the really negative stuff started coming in with no redeeming qualities since I had fallen in love with so many of the characters and then they’re all dead. And for heaven’sake, did Glenn have to be blinded for life. And what was with Ida Paine and “don’t come back..it’s only the wind”. Huh? And what happens to Trudy? Does she go insane?

    I loved the storyline about the mythical breed of dogs and if they existed, I run out and buy one Three cheers to Robert of November 19th, 2009. I wish I was as eloquent as you.So much for David Wroblewski!

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  6. I forgot one of my questions writing my previous blog. Edgar was already passing to the other side to see his father and Claude was walking around disoriented and in a state of euphoria as his end neared. So what’s with the statement that it was a long time before Edgar or Claude appeared at the house after the fire. Huh? Aren’t authors suppose to make sense?

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  7. This comment refers to the dogs essence and the unbelievably quick ending. First, I kept thinking ask I was reading that I oculd never quite wrap my mind around what the dogs looked like. They were sort of slippery and elusive to me in spirit and physical presence. But they were always wonderful. (except when fighting, but that made them dogs.) I think that in the end, the papers burn, the barn burns, Edgar was given a fast ticket out without being killed by the fire (thanks to Claude) and his father was already on the other side. SO, when Essay and the dogs wandered into that clearing and made the decision, it was about going into Edgar/Dad/Grandad’s realm with them. Had they ever been real? Were they spirit animals all along? Guides along the way for humans in this life? Real, but not real? Here, but not here? And how sad for Edgar’s Mom to know (think) the fire killed him. Was that retribution for the way she let Edgar down by falling for Claude’s BS after his dad died? I loved the book. makes me wonder about many things. The scenes in the wilderness, the lake with the water spouts, life with Henry, his way with the dogs, the fact that he was mute and communicated in his own language, the fire, SO many pieces of mastery in writing. I was SO deeply into this book. I just shut the world off for two days while I finished it. I’m going to be thinking about it for a long time, but I really think the dogs were spirit guides. Once Edgar was gone, they chose to go with him. Amen!

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  8. I have thought about this book since I finished reading it this morning. Such a haunting, sad story. I enjoyed it immensely until I got to the part where Almondine died. I kept hoping that she wasn’t really dead but then Edgar found her grave. I can’t help it, but I did not care for the ending at all. The only good thing was that Edgar, Almondine and Gar were reunited in death. I’m not sure that I would have read this book had I known that the story was going to end so tragically. I have to keep reminding myself that it’s fiction.

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  9. I finished this book several days ago and it is still on my mind. I haven’t cried over a book in a long time but I cried over this one. It had such a sad and depressing ending. I kept hoping that Almondine wasn’t dead but then Edgar found her grave. Then Edgar had to die too. The only consolation was that Edgar and Almondine were reunited in death and they also were reunited with Gar. If I had known that this book was going to end the way it did, I’m not sure that I would have read it at all. I have to keep telling myself that’s it’s fiction.

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  10. Sorry for the double comment but the first one never appeared and I commented again. When the second comment was submitted, the first one appeared also. Sorry again!

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  11. I have read many of the comments written about this book, and am not surprised that the story has garnered such strong feelings. It was my own confusion about, and let down by, the ending that led me to this site. The ending didn’t seem right. While the plot seems to clearly mesh as a retelling of Hamlet, I don’t think combining Hamlet with a coming of age story works. There was no reason for Edgar to die, other than staying true to Hamlet, if that’s what the author was after. As for Edgar’s “walkabout” he had his revelation about the Sawtelle dogs and he needed to go back home (despite the warning not to) to carry out the work that his grandfather had begun, and that Claude was about to undo. Even in the last few moments of the book, Almondine’s ghost twice urges Edgar to get up, and Edgar, having forgiven her, should have obeyed her. Of course, that means that Claude couldn’t have poisoned him, which to me wasn’t even clear that he had succeeded in doing so. That whole scene was improbable, anyway; no one as panicked as Claude, and under those circumstances, could possibly handle such a potent poison and quickly prepare a syringe – believe me, I am a retired pharmacist with much experience! As someone pointed out, the story lacked redemption, which it would have had had Edgar found the bottle of poison (or the syringe meant to kill him). And in the prophecy, there was just as much imperative for Edgar to find the bottle as there was for him not to return to the farm. I didn’t know anything about this book before I began to listen to it, and was really was taken in by the story. Some of the writing was extremely moving, even poignant. But because of the ending, the book was ultimately unsatisfying. Too many motives were left unexplained, there were too many loose ends, and certain characters, such as Henry’s, and even Glen’s, ended up seeming superfluous.

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  12. I’m confused about Claude and Forte. I thought Forte was Gar’s dog? And what happened to Claude at the end? I know he died, but how did he get trapped in a cage? (I’m assuming the fumes got to him, but is there something more significant I’m missing?). And I think Edgar had to die. Almondine was old when he left and was probably going to die anyway; she was a part of him and without her and his father he could not lead a peaceful existence. Therefore, they are reunited in death and he is at peace. I hoped he would get up when Almondine’s ghost encouraged him, however. I do wish he had somehow survived thought.

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  13. I was so enjoying this beautifully written 600 page story until I came to the ending. I even went back to re-read the last ten pages to see if I had MISSED something. I was so hoping for a happy ending, and I was disappointed that the author chose to have Edgar die in the fire and not fulfill his young life with what meant most to him. I felt as though the author had run out of challenging scenarios and was hurrying to finish everyone off, quickly. So much more could have happened without such a shocking ending. However beautifully written, I’m not sure that I would recommend this book because of the ending. Wish it wasn’t so.

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  14. Oprah and Tom Hanks have already bought the rights to make “The Story Of Edgar
    Sawtelle” into a movie Universal has signed on as well.

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  15. Just finished 5 minutes ago and had to google what other people thought. The last book I read by Jodi Picoult had the same kind of ending where I wanted to throw the book against the wall. This one not as bad as that I guess but geez, can’t we ever have a feel good ending anymore. There are so many unanswered questions on motivation, what happened, why, and it’s just a big, big bummer. Nothing to feel good about at the end…at….all. Was excited when I heard about the movie but now that I’ve finished the book, not so much.

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  16. I finished the book last night and was left with many unanswered quesations. Why did Edgar decide to go back home to the farm? How did Almondine die?

    I have never read Hamlet so I was surprised by the tragic ending in this book. Like many, I found it hard to believe Trudy could not get away from Glen and help Edgar. I felt like Trudy and Edgar deserved a proper reunion, which the author never allowed them to have. And, Edgar should have been allowed to get back the life Claude stold from him when he poisened Gar. If this were a coming of age story as the author described, Edgar should not have come home, with all his new insights and understanding, to die.

    I did bot like the ending, but still would recommend the book.

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  17. Half way through this book I suspected the author’s plot lines were getting a little too complicated for character motivation control. I agree that his foreshadowing is heavy handed and only have enjoyed the dog-human relationship development. Training is hard work but tremendously rewarding. Glad I checked this website though, as I believe the lost loose ends and curious character about faces, along with the negative spiral disagrees with my philosophy of life…any English grad will tell you some element of redemption is vital for even a realistically blunt ending. The ending isn’t just blunt, it’s sounds like a vicariously cruel but ill-managed attempt at tragedy and I agree with the comments that it turns into a nightmare, of which I wish no part. I choose not to finish this book therefore, but loved the cover as it reflects the iconic images the author started with. Too bad he opted for a clumsy and weirdly out of control finale.

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  18. I enjoyed the book at first I was dissapointed by the ending but then I realized that Edgar living with the death of Gar then knowing he killed the doc and Claude killed Gar would be too much for him to bear. I mean He’s only a fourteen year old kid. I believe Trudy survived as she should have. If she had been there for Edgar, Edgar’s and the Doc’s death could have been avoided. Instead she decided to start seeing Claude and block her own child out.When you think about it the truth came out to everyone who it needed to come out to. Trudy knows what Claude did and who he is. Most people arent satisfied with an ending like that. Heres my comparison if youve seen the movie the lovely bones you know that the family figured out who did it but they didnt get to see him go to court instead an ice cicle hit him and he fell off a cliff. Even though neither one of them went through the legal system all of their victims were set free because their families were finally able to know the truth and thats all that matters.

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  19. Just finished this book last night and wanted to throw it against the wall when I did! What a terrible ending! If the author was trying to write a modern twist on Hamlet obviously there was no other way to end it… but why do that?? Up until the last chapters the story was lovely (I couldn’t put it down) and deserved a creative ending even if sad, but that at least tied up all the loose ends and satisfied the reader. The ending was ridiculous and totally ruined the story. There was no lesson to learn from it… other than Edgar should have listened to Ida and stayed away for good!

    As a side note… I watched “Hatchi” with Richard Gere last night (Hatchi was mentioned in the book). It was a sad movie also but moving. Worth watching if you love dogs!

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  20. I just re-read this book because I loved it so much the first time. I have a strong feeling that this is the beginning of a trilogy (or maybe the 2nd part of a trilogy… yet to come will be the prequel, with Stulz’ farm and the grandfather.) I pondered the ending a great deal this time and I realized that, although everyone is near death, the fire doesn’t really consume anyone except, perhaps, Claude. Nothing is really final, if you re-read it. Edgar says “I love you” to Almondine as both of them lie on the floor beneath the mow where Edgar had opened up the ceiling to let out the smoke… the floor is where the air remains. This could have been a near-death experience. The poison was from an old, diluted bottle, furthermore, we don’t even know if it went in. With so many loose ends and Glen wandering around hollering, at the end no emergency vehicles had come to the scene. I can see the next story to start with emergency vehicles arriving, putting out the fire, oxygen masks all around and Edgar and Trudie surviving. Then Edgar must find his dogs by re-tracing the steps of his previous journey to Henry’s house. By then Essay will have run with Forte and gone back to collect Baboo and Tinder from Henry and to get refreshed in the loving care of Henry. That may be where Edgar finds them. Through it all, the dogs and Edgar must prevail. I really think this is what David Wroblewski is going to do. If he doesn’t continue the story of the Sawtelle dogs, THEN I will be disappointed in him, too.

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  21. Back to the original topic… I think that the ending of the book presented a choice to the Sawtelle dogs: either to live in the wild like Forte, or to live alongside humans. Each of the dogs let its opinion be known to Essay, the leader, and stood waiting for Essay’s decision. We never know what she chooses, but the choice itself is not significant. What matters is Essay’s capacity to choose. This is the culmination of John Sawtelle’s dream of creating the “next dog,” and this is what sets the Sawtelle dogs apart. Very nice read!

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  22. I just finished it. I knew it was going to have a bad ending so I was expecting the worst. I was actually relieved at the end. At least he was with Almondine and his father.
    I read the very beginning again and noticed that the first chapter was called Forte’s children. What did that mean and what was the significance of Forte?
    I also wondered what Gar was trying to say to Edgar when he came back as a ghost. What was he trying to spell. I am sad to be finished with the book.

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  23. Biggest problems I had w/ the book:

    1. Glen’s motivation for trying to make Edgar pass out. His whole character just didn’t feel right at the end.
    2. Trudy telling Edgar to leave when Page died. She later admits that it was a mistake, but that seems like a clumsy explanation.
    3. Claude’s actions at the end didn’t make a lot sense to me. He should have knows that Trudy find out that Edgar left the note. And leaving the Impala key’s w/ the money and the picture? Why would he include the picture in that?

    I didn’t get too emotionally invested in the book/characters so the tragedy didn’t bother me, but I found it insufficiently clever.

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  24. Just finished this book. I cannot believe I wasted my time to read a 600 page book that was full of ghosts, fantasy (hich half the time I could not figure out if it was fantasy or not)and so many other facets of this book I hated, not to mention the ending. I didn’t understand many of the phrases or terms referable to dog training/raising. I was really let down and am just furious at myself for continually saying throughout the entire painful experience of reading this, “just keep going, it will finally all make sense”, which it never did. Horrible book in every way.

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  25. A few of you might want to re-read the part where Edgar says “I love you”. He is clearly sayingt that to his father and not Almondine. It is such a huge part of the book that I wanted to bring that up. Yes, Edgar grabs Alomdine’s throat to help find his voice but he is speaking to a man who is crossing the river and now within a whisper of hearing. It is Edgar’s father. Remember that Edgar kept saying “what did I forget” when replaying the moments of his father’s struggle to stay alive. He forgot to say “I love you”.

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  26. I thought the ending was stunning and beautiful in its tragedy. Can you imagine re-doing Hamlet with a happy ending? We would not still speak of Hamlet today if all had ended well?

    It is sometimes the unsettling and traumatic events in our lifes that in hindsight give it granularity, richness and ultimately further meaning.
    The mastery of “The Story of Edgar Sawtelle” is in its final 100 pages…..not in-spite of them. The beauty of a resolution left for interpretation is that a book of this magnitude maintains a hold on us. Makes us think long after reading the final page….and draws us to a site like this where we share how we were touched, frustrated, or maybe shed a tear. And just maybe, how we look at our pets a little differently afterwards. A fine wine is not sweet….rather It is rich with complexity.

    I loved every moment of this book.

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