The Story of Edgar Sawtelle Webcast Transcript
Oprah: The Almondine chapter—
David: All of Almondine's chapters are almost exactly the way they were in first draft. She's not based on any dog. She's an amalgamation of every dog I've ever known. And so I can't—I couldn't pick a single dog and say she comes from them. But I did want her to have a very distinctly different way of experiencing the world. I wanted the language for her to be more poetic. I wanted her to not operate in terms of sort of rational—what we call rational thought. Be very much more based in her senses. And—and to think of time differently because she—she thinks of—for instance, in that first chapter, trying to find the thing that was going to happen.
David: And so she's experiencing—
Oprah: At the bottom of page 34, everybody, "While Almondine pondered this, a sound reached her ears—a whispery rasp, barely audible, even to her. At first she couldn't make sense of it. The moment she'd walked into the room, she'd heard the breaths coming from the blanket. The ones that nearly matched his mother's breathing. And so it took her a moment to understand that in this new sound she was hearing distress to realize that this near silence was the sound of him wailing. She waited for the sound to stop, but it went on and on as quiet as the rustle of the new leaves on the apple trees. That was what the concern had been about, she realized. The baby had no voice. It couldn't make a sound."
Oprah: Oh my God.
Oprah: And then at the top of 35, this is one of my favorite lines in the book, "Almondine began to pant. She shifted her weight from one hip to the other and as she looked on and saw his mother continue to sleep, she finally understood the thing that was going to happen was that her time for training was over and now at last she had a job to do."
David: Yeah. Yeah.
Oprah: How did that come to you, David?
David: Um, I don't know how to answer that question because I—I don't remember specifically writing that line. But I do remember thinking when I wrote it that, "I like the idea that our dogs, our animals, can have a revelatory moment."
David: Can realize that they have a purpose in their lives. And so one of the reasons why I think I didn't touch these chapters very much was because through whatever luck or grace you get out of writing, a passage like that happens to you. Oh, that—I didn't even know I meant that until I wrote it and then I said, "Okay, that—that was right. I'm not going to change that or mess with it."
Oprah: Wow. So, Karen?
Oprah: Did you get your question answered?
Karen: I did. That was wonderful. Thank you so much.
Oprah: Thank you, Karen.
David: Thanks, Karen.
Karen: You're welcome.
Oprah: So we have a book club Skyping in from Appleton, Wisconsin, not too far from the setting of the book. So what's your question? Wow, there's a whole club there.
David: Hi, folks.
Oprah: Appleton, Wisconsin. Hello.
Oprah: Everybody with their Edgar Sawtelle book. So what's the question? Who's the—
All: And our Kindles.
Oprah: And your Kindles. Great.
Appleton Book Club Member: Hi, David.
Appleton Book Club Member: I was just wondering about the lack of other relationships for Edgar in the story. It seems like he would want to share his home and his dogs and all the wonderful things that are going on with his friends.
David: That's a great question. Part of—part of what I was interested in doing with Edgar was isolating him for a number of reasons. I was interested in the idea of haunting, which is one of the themes of the book.
David: And—and he's—and I wanted for—for the purposes of the story for him to not have to spend much time off the farm. I wanted that—that farm, that barn, that yard, that house to be like a stage set. To which he was confined in a sort of pressure cooker.
David: Until the moment when he leaves. So that dictated a number of choices about how much of his outside life, his school life and so on, were actually present in the story itself.
David: And there were many scenes where he's on the bus or he's in school, and so on that I cut as I—as I understood that in order to keep the dramatic tension in place, I needed to—I needed to restrict what we saw of his life to home. But I also think that that's—that's where all the important things happen to him. So it wasn't important to show his life in school or—or really anywhere else.
Oprah: Yeah. And also not being able to speak that, would be a part of the reason why he would be isolated.
Oprah: And just imagine, ladies, if he could, then he would be able to share all of these feelings of discontent or whatever was going on at home, there would be the friend and the friends and the school and all of that engaged in it.
Oprah: So I see why you set it up that way.
David: He needed—the people that he needed to be closest to were the dogs and his family.
David: So there was really no space in the story for the rest of it.
Oprah: Right. And if he had a friend, that would have taken energy away from the dogs.
David: Right. Exactly.
Oprah: Any other questions? That's a good question, though. Really good question. Anybody else in the book club?
Appleton Book Club Member 2: Yeah, I wondered why at the beginning of the story it seems so important for Edgar to find out how his parents met, and then at the end, Edgar, and ultimately the reader, does not find out how his parents met. And I wondered why, David, you constructed it that way.
Oprah: That's a good question. I like that too.
David: There's a—I think that's a—first of all, I think that's an excellent question. And it's something that I spent a lot of time thinking about. In the very beginning of this book, Edgar has a couple of problems that he has to solve. One of them is why Schultz left the farm.