The Story of Edgar Sawtelle Webcast Transcript
Cheryl: The—the little girl in the diner who I think was Ida Paine's granddaughter.
Oprah: Granddaughter. Yes.
Cheryl: She said something that was really interesting to me about Edgar's muteness. She said that her grandmother had told her that Edgar was mute because he had a secret that God didn't want him to tell.
Cheryl: And so I guess the end of my very compound question here is, what was the secret that Edgar wasn't to tell?
David: Okay. You may have to help me reconstruct the entire—let's talk for a second about foreshadowing.
Oprah: Okay, foreshadowing.
David: There's two different kinds of foreshadowing that take place in this book. One is intended to be invisible. And the other is—is Ida Paine who's supposed to be in the foreground and very, very obviously foreshadowing some things. I think of the structure of a novel as a braid. It's a braid of various things. Plot points. But also images or words or ideas that will be on the surface of the story for a little while and then submerge and then come up and be on the surface of the story again in some slightly altered form. Let me give you an example. In the first chapter, there's a—there's a sort of very brief throwaway scene where Edgar's grandfather has adopted this pup named Gus and they go sit by a lake and he fishes and feeds the—feeds the pub fish that he's caught that he's roasted over a fire. It happens for a paragraph or something like that and then disappears.
David: Later in the book in Part 4, that's practically what Edgar spends all his time doing. Now I wouldn't call that foreshadowing. But it is. I mean, it functions like foreshadowing. It's an image that echoes later in the book and very, very much of the book works this way if you take it apart technically. Ida Paine is the only—only element of this story that is intended to function like foreshadowing. And I wanted—she's not—you mentioned the Oracle at Delphi, which I think is a bull's eye in one way. I think of Ida Paine as coming from—remember I talked about that palette.
David: Coming from Macbeth and the witches in Macbeth. Who have the same sort of function. They say, "Macbeth, you know, you're going to be king." They don't tell him how or why and they say, "And no one's going to be able to kill you until these woods come to this hill and so on." And so I was, in my mind during that prophecy, I was thinking mainly of the witches in Macbeth. But of course they're part of a larger tradition of oracles in storytelling and I think they're all connected.
Oprah: And what is the secret that Edgar holds?
David: You know, I think that that secret is the—is that he—he knows or will know—I'm trying to remember what happens in the story now. He doesn't know yet that—about what happened with Gar and Claude.
David: So—but it's meant to be a puzzle at that point. It's puzzling for Edgar and I—it's meant to—that's one of those elements that's sort of meant to submerge and be below the surface for the rest of the story.
Oprah: Isn't this quite a story?
Cheryl: Oh, it's wonderful.
Oprah: Wonderful story, yeah.
Cheryl: It's—to me it's just such a compelling read. The imagery was just off the charts. I read this for the first time last summer. I think it was shortly after it was released. And we were on vacation in Belize, so I devoted all day every day reading it. And then my book club, and they're going to kill me because they're not all arrayed behind me. I didn't know that was an option. We're meeting this Thursday to discuss this book and also Hamlet, and I threw in—and I'm beginning to wonder why now, but I threw inRosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead because I thought they were all somehow related. But it's a wonderful, rich read, and I loved it.
Oprah: Thank you so much, Cheryl.
Cheryl: Thank you.
Oprah: Okay. We have Lori from Ontario, Canada, on the phone. Lori, your question for David?
Lori: Hi, Oprah. David, my question as I was reading through, the pain that Edgar would have in his chest. I know when he was trying to get the operator to understand that he needed help, he was pounding on that chest. But then he continued to have this horrendous pain, this really heartbreaking pain, and I wanted to know what was that about? Was that just the heartache of his life or was it—you know, was it his father coming to him? Or what were you after there?
David: Okay. First of all, hi. Thanks for calling.
David: He's feeling a pain in his chest, and it's not revealed until after it's first mentioned, that in his sleep, while he's sleeping, he's still beating his chest. And so what's happening is, and he's in this very strange state at that point in the story of sort of denial and suspecting that something's not right, but not knowing how to assemble it coherently. What's happening is I think in his sleep, and sorts of in the edges of his mind, he knows something's not right.
Oprah: Something's off.
David: And he keeps reliving in his dreams, or in his sleep, at least, that moment when he's on the phone. And so in his sleep, he's striking his chest, and he doesn't even know he's doing it in the way that we can all sort of look around, things that are incredibly obvious, he's managed not to notice that he has a big bruise on his chest until that moment in the story when Trudy says, "What is going on? Take off your shirt. What's going on with that big bruise on your chest?" And so when—in the story when he first notices that he wakes up and he just feels this ache that's sort of radiating out from the middle of his chest, he doesn't connect it to that.
Lori: Well, thank you. Thank you.
Oprah: Thanks, Lori.
Lori: I loved the book. Just loved it.
David: Thank you.