Rated Reads

The Story of Edgar Sawtelle

by David Wroblewski

Rated: Moderate

The story of a boy and his dog is a common theme in literature. But in the case of David Wroblewski’s debut novel, the story of a boy and his dog(s) is anything but common. How many books in this genre pattern themselves after Shakespeare’s Hamlet? And that’s just the very bare bones of The Story of Edgar Sawtelle. It’s about a boy born mute to parents who breed and train specialized dogs. It’s about his relationship with those dogs and with the father who dies young and possibly mysteriously and is displaced by the uncle who has been out of the picture for years.

Not being a dog person in the least, I was hesitant to read this novel but gave in because of all the glowing reviews it has received since it came out earlier this summer. Despite its being so descriptive of the breeding and training of this family’s dogs, and about their relationship to Edgar, I still was able to appreciate the novel. It hasn’t converted me from being a “cat person,” but I did enjoy it. The novel is truly not about dogs, on its deepest levels. And there are so many levels of meaning in this densely written book.

All the hype has been true in this case: Wroblewski has crafted a masterpiece of American literature. All 562 pages are significant, and every sentence must be read and digested. Each paragraph and line was so clearly labored over by the author, to get it just right. It is beautiful prose, evocative of time and place. It cannot be read quickly or skimmed over in any way — it must be savored and pondered. A second reading is even a good idea to get the real picture.

The Story of Edgar Sawtelle is not light, easy reading, but it is a beautiful novel to be appreciated and discussed with others.

Rated: Moderate. For such a lengthy, word-heavy book, there is a very low proportion of bad language. Sexual content is almost nonexistent, and violence is fairly low. I would almost say that overall this book would easily be a mild, in how it is written, in how few occasions of offensive language there are for a book of this size and scope. It evokes the earlier time period in which it is set and doesn’t use any language lightly. It is very carefully and deliberately employed. In one scene, in fact, a character uses a very mild bit of language and is mock-reprimanded.

However, I must give it a Moderate rating because it does have four uses of strong language. It also contains a handful of uses of moderately offensive language, and about 10 occasions of mild language and a few more of using the Lord’s name in vain. Overall, much like a classic novel except with the four uses of strong language.

— Reviewed by Cathy Carmode Lim

Cathy Carmode Lim has been reviewing books for newspapers for more than 20 years, two of which she was a book page editor. She founded Rated Reads in January 2008.

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  • The Story of Edgar Sawtelle
  • by David Wroblewski
  • Rated: Moderate
  • Genre: Fiction
  • Reviewer: