The Story of Edgar Sawtelle Webcast Transcript
Oprah: Yeah. And the book leaves you feeling that. Haunted.
David: Yeah. So the ideas are related, but not—not in the writing was I trying to connect them directly.
Oprah: Mm-hmm. Okay. That got answered. All right. Are you surprised at all by the success, by the reception of the book? By the reception. And I'm not saying that, you know, to hear anything about the book club selection. Because, as I said when I announced the book, I am literally jumping on the bandwagon of all the other acclaim, critical and personal that you've received for this book.
David: Yeah. Yeah.
Oprah: Were you surprised? You know, you worked so long on it. I know no author sets out to, you know, say, "Gee, I'm going to have this critically acclaimed book. You're just writing the story.
David: No, I was surprised. And particularly since this was a story that I had been living with, you know, sort of in—in my office. I think of it like I had it in a cage in my office.
David: And I had this very—when we talked on the telephone—or actually when you announced the book.
David: I said that it was a very private and very personal project for me because I had developed over all these years this lifestyle where these were people I knew. And they were all mine. Almondine was all mine. Edgar was all mine. And so I had no idea whether that would translate for other people or not. And it wasn't—it really wasn't foremost in my mind when I was writing. What was important to me was getting the book written. I—I'm aware that most first novels don't even get published.
David: And that they are—they're the training ground that you create for yourself. So for me, a big part of this, probably the most exciting moment in the writing of this book, or the publishing of this book, was just finding out it was going to be published at all. And if 500 people or 5,000 people read it, that would have been fine with me. Just the idea that it—that it was going to get a chance to get out of that cage and have a public life was very exciting.
Oprah: Wow. That is so moving.
Oprah: I think what's so interesting, too, is what you were saying earlier about Almondine. Because as I've expressed to our viewers and also to you when I first called, that the chapters about—the chapters that Almondine wrote are almost—they feel holy. They feel sacred to me.
Oprah: And now to hear that those were the ones that were the least, you know, touched by you or the editor after writing, and to also understand, I had an aha! moment here, that the fact that Almondine didn't have a language to express, that somehow the languaging or the words had to be chosen so carefully so, you know, specifically and deeply to express her feelings.
Oprah: That's part of the reason why there feels like there's such grace in those chapters.
David: Yeah. Yeah. And I—you know, I sort of feel about them the same way. Like they were a gift. I feel that way about Almondine. She was just a gift that I got. And I didn't deserve her or earn her. Just a sort of act of grace from wherever writing comes from that this character dropped into my life. I absolutely feel that way.
Oprah: Well, we polled our readers, we did a poll on Oprah.com. We asked our book club members what they most wanted to know, we asked you all, about Edgar Sawtelle. And I think the number one question that our readers have is, of course, why wasn't there a happy ending?
Oprah: Why wasn't there a happy ending? Did you know how it was going to end when you started?
David: I did—well, I didn't know the details of how it was going to end. I knew that—I had a sort of—sort of vague emotional response toward the ending, and I knew it was going to be—I knew it was a tragedy, so I knew it was an exercise in tragedy in some sense. Not that I knew what that meant at the time. But I understood the general story arc.
Oprah: Yeah, you explained that in the beginning. So you knew—
Oprah: —that it was going to be a tragic ending. You just didn't know the details of that.
David: Yeah. And I think this is a question that comes up a lot. I have not had a lot of chance to talk about it. Because when I talk at book stores and so on—
Oprah: You don't want to tell the ending.
David: Generally—well, someone will ask a question, and then the rest of the crowd—there's this sort of rumble that goes through the crowd and people say, "Don't talk about the ending."
David: So I want to—I'd like—if I could, I'd like to read a quote from Franz Kafka that I think is very meaningful in this regard.
David: And it has to do with why we read sad stories or why we engage in tragedy at all.
David: He wrote—this is from a letter that he wrote to a friend of his, Max Brod. He says, "I think we ought to read only the kinds of books that wound and stab us: If the book we are reading doesn't wake us up with a blow on the head, then what are we reading it for? We need books that affect us like a disaster. That grieve us deeply. Like the death of someone we loved more than ourselves."
David: "Like being banished into the forests far from everyone. Like a suicide. A book must be the ax for the frozen sea inside us."
Oprah: Wow. I'm writing that down.
David: That's a—that's a passage that I ran across while I was in the middle of writing Edgar's story. And it explained to me a lot about why it was—it was worth telling a sad story, basically.
Oprah: Boy, I love that quote. "A book must be the ax for the frozen sea inside of us."
David: Isn't that wonderful?