What would Hamlet be like if super-intelligent dogs were involved? Even the proverbial infinite number of monkeys probably wouldn't have come up with the luminous, deeply touching version David Wroblewski gives us in his masterful debut novel, The Story Of Edgar Sawtelle. Wroblewski sets his story in rural Wisconsin, where a married couple who have devoted themselves to breeding dogs capable of understanding complex commands gives birth to a son who lacks the power of speech. As Edgar grows up and begins to discover the complex relationship between his parents, his father's itinerant brother Claude, and the dogs his grandfather first selected and bred, he becomes convinced that he is in possession of secrets that have never been spoken aloud. His quest for answers, and his questions about the significance of that weighty past, outline a world of frustrated communication that often uncovers sublime moments of perfect communion.
Edgar is something of a substitute, it turns out—a child born after his mother had a tragic miscarriage. As he tries to figure out the source of the tension between his uncle Claude and his parents, he discovers that the Sawtelle dogs are all substitutes of a kind for a wild dog that his father tamed and loved. After his father dies, Edgar's frenzied guilt is compounded when Claude takes up with his mother. Edgar begins seeing visions of his father, a shape outlined in rain, pointing him to a syringe—evidence, he thinks, that Claude killed his father in order to marry his mother. When his efforts to unmask the murderer and protect his mother cause another death, Edgar goes on the run with the dogs he's hand-raised, stealing and living off the land to stay safe from both the law and the lawless.
In ruminative prose, Wroblewski spins a tale of old family conflicts that's fresh, original, and full of heart-stopping tension. In the grip of his muse, he seems to have channeled his story's wild beauty rather than inventing it. The Story Of Edgar Sawtelle provides a window into the poignancy of incomplete lives and the transcendence that lies just outside the reach of our human senses.