Saturday, November 8, 2008
A contemporary retelling of Hamlet of stark and striking brilliance set on a farm in remote northern Wisconsin, where the mute and brilliant Edgar Sawtelle leads an idyllic life with his parents Gar and Trudy. For generations, the Sawtelles have raised and trained a breed of dog whose thoughtful companionship is epitomised by Almondine, Edgar's lifelong companion. But when his beloved father mysteriously dies, Edgar blames himself, if only because his muteness left him unable to summon help. Grief-stricken and bewildered by his mother's desperate affair with her dead husband's brother, Edgar's world unravels one spring night when, in the falling rain, he sees his father's ghost. After a botched attempt to prove that his uncle orchestrated Gar's death, Edgar flees into the Chequamegon wilderness leading three yearling dogs. Yet his need to face his father's murderer, and his devotion to the Sawtelle dogs, turn Edgar ever homeward. When he returns, nothing is as he expects, and Edgar must choose between revenge or preserving his family legacy!
When I first decided to read this book, I had no idea it was an Oprah selection (I probably would not have read it if I had known, since I tend to avoid her selections.) The other reason was it was a story that involved dogs, and I love dogs having a big Golden Retriever myself. I didn't know much else about the book, but then I began to read it had very mixed reviews. Well, now that I've finished it, I know why.
This book started out very well. In fact, I was so moved by the storyline in the first 40 pages, I was sobbing twice, it tugged at my heartstrings so strongly. I settled into the great storytelling of Edgar's parents and their early trials and tribulations before he is born. Then I was sucked in even further when Edgar is born mute and we learn how his parents deal with it. Their beloved dog, Almondine, becomes Edgar's nursemaid in a way, taking care of him and being his voice from the time they first bring him home from the hospital. All the while, the backdrop of dog breeding and the famous Sawtelle dogs was fascinating to read about. In the majority of the book Edgar is 14 - the same age as my teenaged son. I could so relate! I loved it all - until Claude came into the picture.
Claude is Edgar's uncle, and this is where the whole Hamlet storyline comes in to the book. Claude kills his brother, Gar (Edgar's father) who then comes to him on a rainy night outside in the form of a dripping wet ghost. Edgar, who can only speak by signing, communicates with his father by signing, as does his father's ghost back to him. It was an eerie but moving moment, and so begins Edgar's teenaged quest to avenge his father and get rid of Claude, who also had designs on his mother, Trudy. I was really disappointed in Trudy. She started off well, I admired her and her fortitude through her heartaches, but she just seemed to give up and let Claude into her life (and bed) and after that we never really got into her head much until close to the end of the book. What was she thinking of Edgar the whole time he had run away? Wasn't she going out of her mind? Her character started out so well, but then totally fizzled, and wasn't realistic anymore. We lost her.
Edgar runs away with three of the dogs he's training and for almost 2 months he's on foot, trying to make his way to this Commune in Canada. One of the dogs, Tinder, gets injured (I was so sad for Tinder!) and Edgar finds help and lives with this nice, but melancholy, lonely guy, Henry who has a house in the woods. This interlude was okay, but dragged at parts, but it was Edgar's reawakening that he must return, he can't run away any longer. But, I'm still not really sure of what triggered his reawakening, but it was moving when he leaves with the dogs. The dogs were the best part of this book - and Edgar of course. I really liked Edgar a lot, he's special.
But, by the last part of the book when Edgar returns I was really getting fed up with the storyline and didn't like the way it was going. Too many disappointments. I loved Almondine, and what happens to her was so unfair! I would have cried, if I hadn't been so mad. And then the whole crazy ending (trying not to give away spoilers here) in the barn and the final outcome - I could spit, it was all so drawn out and disappointing! No fair! Yes, I know, I know, he was following the story of Hamlet, but did he have to be so faithful to it? Couldn't he make it a happy ending? I felt like I had invested so much into this story with wonderful, sweet Edgar and the dogs and the training - all to have it pulled out from under me!
This book started out so well, but then in the last 250 pages it changed so and become one disappointment after another. It almost seemed as if it was written by a different person in the 2nd half. What happened?? Read it at your own risk, or just read the first 300 pages and leave it there.
I'm rating this a 3.5, but if it had kept the same tone as the first half, it would have been a 5.