The Story of Edgar Sawtelle Webcast Transcript
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Oprah: Welcome book clubbers to our worldwide book club discussion. Finally we get to talk about this book I love so much. We're coming to you live from our studios in Chicago, Harpo, and we're uniting readers from all over the globe. This is really so exciting. Including London, Australia, South Africa and beyond for what has to be really, I think, the biggest book club meeting ever. Tonight, we're talking to author David Wroblewski about one of the best books I've read in a long, long time, our book club selection, The Story of Edgar Sawtelle. Now, when I read this novel, I knew it was something truly special and I wanted to, you know, meet the man who wrote it. So much so that, you know, I didn't wait for a book club selection. I just called him up. Wasn't that fun?
David: Yes, it was.
Oprah: Welcome, David. Welcome.
David: I'm very happy to be here. Thanks.
Oprah: Thank you so much. And so I hadn't chosen then—when I called you, right? I hadn't chosen it yet.
David: No. No.
Oprah: No. I just wanted to talk about all the characters.
David: Yeah. And we just barely got started, so...
Oprah: And so tell us throughout our Web—first of all, throughout our webcast tonight we're going to be taking questions from all of you viewers—well, not all of you. We can't get everybody on. But our phone lines are open and the number to call is right there on your screen. It's 866-677-2496 or OPRAH-XM. 866-OPRAH-XM. You can also e-mail us on the right of your screen, and we'll read your question or call you at home. But before we get started, I want to have just a short refresher. Now, I'm assuming that if you're online with us right now, you have read the book, because I'm getting ready to do a refresher of this brilliant novel and the refresher is going to tell you everything that happens in the book. So if you're one of those people like my friend Gayle, this is the time to put your fingers in your ears if you don't want to know what the outcome is going to be. Or if you're like Dean, our stage manager, who's not quite finished the book yet, here's the time to put your fingers in your ears, Dean. The Story of Edgar Sawtelle. Take a look.
Oprah (taped): Set near the northern Wisconsin woods, The Story of Edgar Sawtelle is an epic novel about a family who breeds an exceptionally intuitive and highly intelligent type of dog. Sawtelle dogs, as they are known, are highly sought after. The Sawtelles' only child, Edgar, is born mute and communicates through sign. His loyal companion, Almondine, a beautiful Sawtelle dog, is always by his side. When his father's troubled brother, Claude, moves back to the family farm, it sets into motion a chain of events that shatters their idyllic world. Edgar's father suddenly drops dead, causing the family business to teeter on the brink of collapse. Claude offers to take charge and, in the process, seduces Edgar's mother, Trudy. In one of many nods to Shakespeare's Hamlet, the story takes a supernatural turn when Edgar's father comes to him as a ghost and reveals that he was poisoned. Edgar flees into the Wisconsin wilderness, leaving his mother and beloved Almondine behind. The story now begins its tragic conclusion. Almondine dies searching for Edgar, who eventually returns home to confront his uncle. It is then Edgar and Claude meet their fate as the barn goes up in flames. Sensing death and destruction, the Sawtelle dogs break free to find their own destiny in the deep dark of night.
Oprah: Wow. So you say the idea for this book came to you in one afternoon?
David: Yeah, absolutely. I—I always describe it as an idea package, because it really combined two or three different elements. I was interested in writing a story about dogs because I hadn't read a story about dogs in a long time.
David: This was in the mid-1990s.
David: I was interested in drawing on classical sources and in particular, Hamlet, because I was—I've always been interested in that story. And I—I wanted it to involve something about language. I'm interested in language and how we use it or fail to use it. How we can misuse it. And so the idea of muteness was part of that idea package right from the start.
Oprah: All in one idea in one afternoon.
David: All in one idea in one afternoon it sort of arrived for me. And in particular, the way it arrived, I had been thinking about how to write a book about dogs, and since this is my first novel, that was completely daunting to me. And one of the things that was very helpful—
Oprah: So what else had you written?
David: I'd written short stories. I had been taking—for about five years I had been writing short stories, participating in workshops and so on. But I had concluded that the short story wasn't my forum. And I knew I wanted to try a novel. That is the art form that I've always loved the most. And so I wanted to try it, but I was daunted.
Oprah: You always loved it because you loved reading them, right?
David: But I responded, I think, as many people who are interested in writing do, I responded to the writing of the book as much as I responded to the story in the book itself.
David: I would read a book and say, you know, I loved that story and—but my imagination would always go immediately to "I wonder how they wrote it. I wonder how that worked."