I chose The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski as my North American entry into my South West Reading Passport because of it’s attachment to dogs and the rural location of the novel itself. The blurb reads:
“On a farm in remote Wisconsin, the mute and brilliant Edgar Sawtelle leads and idyllic life with his parts, raising a unique breed of dog. But when Edgar’s uncle Claude unexpectedly returns home, the scene is set for a family tragedy of Shakespearean proportions. Forced to flee into the wilderness, Edgar comes of age fighting for survival. But the questions he has left unanswered, and his devotion to the Sawtelle dogs, turn Edgar ever homeward. “
That’s the first time I read the blurb since reading the book and something very obvious is now leaping out at me, which is explained in the video below where I summarise my thoughts and impressions about The Story of Edgar Sawtelle, as well as a quick intro to the South West Reading Passport itself!
So yes, I prefer original fiction and not books that “immitate” or are “inspired by” other novels. As someone who loves literature I know we can’t overstate how much Shakespeare gave to it (and yes, that little bit in the blurb is now mocking me a bit) but I still prefer original fiction in as much as any idea can be considered original. I know it seems like I have a big hang-up on the similarities between The Story of Edgar Sawtelle and Hamlet but that’s mostly because I didn’t notice them for so long. Right up until one pivotal moment about 200 pages in, there had been no obvious similarities but everything after that was very much a modern day interpretation of the play. And it was obvious.
I grew attached to these characters in their own right and the symbolism surrounding some events in their lives is staggering. The family unit is beautifully created but not with rose-tinted specs. It’s also obvious that Hamlet is a tragedy, so I kinda knew the story wasn’t going to end well if the writer was suddenly determined to go down that path. As a reader, I found this shift very abrupt and I’m not sure how much was me being a literature student and suddenly breaking the 4th wall for this book and peeking behind the curtain. I could no longer just enjoy it because I couldn’t stop analysing how sections were like the play, how it differed from the play etc. This is probably a unique problem for English students but it coloured my reading of the book. In all honesty, I feel like the first 200 pages prepared me for a very different kind of story, a real life tale that had hints of the bizarre and was a really interesting window into rural America (how accurate that was, I have no way of knowing). Past those 200 pages, I felt like I was in a slightly different story with outrageous secrets and lies and poison. And it didn’t feel totally grounded in the world I’d been in until that point. I guess the story had whet my appetite for something different but perhaps my dislike of Hamlet totally coloured my opinion of this book and that’s no one’s fault but my own!