The Story of Edgar Sawtelle By David Wroblewski
576 pages. Ecco/HarperCollins.
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 (Ecco/HarperCollins). 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.