Thursday, March 19, 2009

He read it, I didn't: The Story of Edgar Sawtelle

At the beginning of the year, I publicly stated my intention not to read The Story of Edgar Sawtelle in 2009. Imagine my surprise when my husband, who works at the library, arrived home one night toting Edgar in his bike pannier.

I said, "That's not for me, is it?"

"It's for me. But I'll have to change my nightly routine if I'm gonna finish it in three weeks," he informed me.

Well, finish it he did, and let the record state that upon finishing it he said, "If I could finish it in one week, you'd finish it in two, easily."

Did I detect a subtle challenge to my anti-challenge? An attempt at sabotage?

Nah, couldn't have been. I must have misheard.

Well, he may never dare mention another book in my presence because as soon as he finished I pounced on him to write a guest blog. In the end we decided to blog a conversation--kind of like I do with my kids. The main difference being that my husband talks faster than the kids so my fingers got stiff, trying to keep up! Also, he was doing dishes while we talked, instead of playing with a finger skateboard or lolling about on the couch.

Ali: What made you pick up The Story of Edgar Sawtelle?

Chris: That's an interesting question, because I think that blogs are becoming the best way for people to sort through the vast amounts of what there is to read, what movies to watch—nobody can possibly do it all. So people want a personal connection to something before they even attempt it. This seems to be especially true for those who read a lot. So it's kind of ironic that what finally made me decide to read it was one little sentence about it in Time magazine, while waiting to get my blood pressure taken at the doctor's office.

Ali: So was that before or after my anti-challenge?

Chris: After. So, yeah, the fact that you had pledged not to read it was some motivation. I don't think I could begin to touch on all that you read, because you read so much. It was intriguing to read something that you were not going to read.

Ali: So it wasn't just to tempt me?

Chris; No, not just to tempt you. I don't start to read a 566 page book just to make a point. I didn't think there was any way I could get through it because, the day before I checked it out, one of my co-workers was talking about reading it for a book group and she said it was 900 pages long. I thought she was serious.

Ali: But you finished it in like a week, didn't you?

Chris: Yeah. I still don't know where I found the time.

Ali: OK, so here's your chance to challenge my challenge. Why should I read this book?

Chris: Because it goes quickly, so even if you don't bond with it, you won't feel like it's a waste of your time. And it reads like music—and I don't mean like when you're sight reading.

Ali: Poetic prose?

Chris: Yes. I kept thinking lyrical prose, but I'm not really sure it is. Though I did find a list of books that had lyrical prose, and at least 2 of them I had read and agreed with--Cold Mountain and Smilla's sense of snow.

The male characters are the strongest—dogs aside—but the tone is, most of the time, very tender.

Ali: Because it's about a kid, right?

Chris: Yeah, he's growing up, so he gets to be an angry rebellious teenager, too.

Ali: I like angry rebellious teenagers. But the Hamlet references really turned me off, because to me that means everyone dies a nasty death in the end.

Chris: Okay, not everyone dies. It's not a strict retelling of Hamlet. Certainly not all the Hamlet-character equivalents die.

Ali: So is there hope at the end?

Chris: Yes.

Ali: And dogs?

Chris: Yes, there are dogs in the end. The people don't all die, and the dogs don't all die either.

Ali: I don't like books where dogs die.

Chris: Can I tell you what was good about the Hamlet aspect?

Ali: Sure.

Chris: It gave a framework--if you know the Hamlet story, you know roughly where you are in the story. It actually made me think about Hamlet in different ways. I honestly never, in all the times I've read or watched Hamlet, wondered about how good a father the ghost had been to Hamlet. Nor did I ever wonder how Hamlet's grandfather's failings might have turned Claudius turn into such a jerk. With a contemporary American novel, nobody's surprised when it makes you think about family relationships.

Ali: I like books about family relationships.

Chris: And I thought the setting wasn't tied that strongly to Wisconsin. The setting was just rural, and the bodies of water could have been rivers instead of lakes and it could've been Douglas firs instead of deciduous trees and it could've been Oregon or Montana or something. They just would've been catching different fish, that's all.

Ali: Okay.

Chris: So do you want to know why you shouldn't read it?

Ali: Yeah.

Chris: Because you ask too much of characters. They're bound to disappoint you, and I don't think that's their fault. The only character you might not be disappointed in is the dog, Almondine. But even if you weren't disappointed with her, you'd be disappointed in Wroblewski because you probably would think that he didn't spend enough of the book with her voice.

Ali: When you say disappointed in the characters, do you mean in their actions, or how they're developed?

Chris: How they're developed. I didn't have any problems with it, but I've discussed enough books with you to know that what I think is okay character development, you would find lacking. So that would be your problem.

My problem was, I couldn't picture some of the physical settings well enough to know what was supposed to be happening. in . I had to spend too much time trying to figure out how the rooms were connected during certain pivotal points in the plot. Not understanding where characters were when the catastrophes happened took some of the impact away.

Ali: That always bugged me in Nancy Drew books. Trying to figure out the lay of the land in order to make sense of the plot.

Chris: In this case it's the layout of the barn. I thought it was a certain way, but it turned out that I didn't understand how they were supposed to be, even though the author kept describing it.

Ali: But overall, you liked it, were glad you read it.

Chris: Yeah, I'm glad I read it.

Ali: You'd recommend it to most people?

Chris: Yeah but that's your point, isn't it? Everyone's recommending it. Anyone can recommend it, but how many can convince someone who's sworn not to read it?

Ali: I didn't swear to never read it. Just not this year.

What about a song?

Chris: The music that's mentioned is Patty Page, Patsy Cline, Roger Miller, but I'm going to pick one from the Cowboy Junkies--Common Disaster. The themes of loss, jealousy, revenge, and murder are pretty appropriate. And disaster too.

Other reviews of The Story of Edgar Sawtelle: Dreamybee


  1. That was utterly and completely awesome! I wish my husband would read something and actually finish it.

  2. I want you to know that I read each entry you make here and it has swayed my reading choices now and then. I have Edgar on my shelf (along with thousands of others still unread titles) and I hope to get it done this year. Your review inspired me to move it up on the list. Moreover, although I loved the review, I love the relationship you show with your hubby. It made me smile.

  3. Oh this is precious! I used to want to read Edgar Sawtelle, but read a few not-so-positive reviews by bloggers and decided not to. But your husband just puts it so sweetly that maybe (also not this year) I might give it a chance, maybe. I hope your husband reads more often so you can get to do more interviews like this. Mine doesn't read anything but cookbooks or foodie books, lol.

  4. Thanks, ladies! Keep the positive feedback coming and maybe he'll review Momentum is Your Friend with me--that's his current read. It's a memoir by a guy who rode across the country with his two little kids on a bike.

    Lenore, I was surprised he finished it so quickly. He really prioritized it.

    Claire, Well, maybe you could get your husband to review a cookbook with you? I love reading about those.

    Writing Goddess, you make me blush. Thank you!

  5. So long as the dogs don't all die...I hate books and movies where the dogs die.
    People, not so much.

  6. Me too, Caite. I don't do well with dogs or babies dying. Or cats. Anyone else is fair game, LOL.

  7. What a great post and review! It is always nice to hear the thoughts of a reader and the different perspectives of what works and doesn't work for them. Thanks for sharing this!

  8. This was so much fun to read. Thanks for pointing me to it!


  9. That was awesome! I loved how you wrote this interview/review, it felt like overhearing a conversation - so perfect.

    I have Edgar Sawtelle somewhere around here and I will read it sometime, but the publicity it received was overwhelming right after it's release - so I'm waiting until it feels like the right time to read it (weird but some books seem to have a good time or bad time for me lol) :)

  10. Well, I probably never will read this book...but honestly this is the closest I've come to thinking "maybe." This was a great review, you guys. And I know just what you mean about not quite being able to picturing the settings...that's the one problem I had reading some Agatha Christie plays with my daughter for school this quarter. She would describe the crap out them, and yet I still couldn't get it right.

  11. Uh..."picture" not "picturing"...learn to proofread, Debi.

  12. I don't know if you intended this post to be funny, but I had several LOL moments. But maybe because I know the characters in the blog so well!!!

    Love, Ka

  13. This was a great review-I liked not only your husband's review, but his review of it for you. I know exactly what he means about the layout of the barn-that was one that I kept having to try to figure out as well. Here's a link to my review.