Excerpt from The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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The Story of Edgar Sawtelle

A Novel

by David Wroblewski

The Story of Edgar Sawtelle
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  • First Published:
    Jun 2008, 576 pages
    Oct 2009, 480 pages

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The pup was a male, maybe three weeks old, though they knew little about wolves and could only judge its age as if it were a dog. Gar tried to explain what had happened but before he could finish the pup began to convulse. They carried it inside and dried it with a towel and afterward it lay looking at them. They made a bed out of a cardboard box and set the box on the floor near the furnace register. Almondine poked her nose over the side. She wasn’t even a yearling yet, still clumsy and often fool-­ ish. They were afraid she would step on the pup or press him with her nose and scare the life out of him, and so, after a time, they put the box on the kitchen table.

Trudy tried formula, but the pup took a drop and pushed the nipple away with forepaws not much bigger than her thumbs. She tried cow’s milk and then honey in water, letting the drops hang off her fingertips. She found an apron with a broad front pocket and carried the pup that way, thinking he might sit up, look around, but he just lay on his back and peered gravely at her. The sight made her smile. When she ran a finger along his belly fur he squirmed to keep sight of her eyes.

At dinnertime they sat and talked about what to do. They’d seen mothers reject babies in the whelping room even when nothing seemed wrong. Sometimes, Gar said, it worked to put orphans with another nurs-­ ing mother. As soon as the words were out, they left the dishes on the table and carried the pup to the kennel. One of the mothers growled at the pup’s scent. Another pushed him away and nosed straw over his body. In response, the pup lay utterly still. There was no point in getting mad but Trudy did anyway. She stalked to the house, pup clasped between her hands. She rolled a tiny piece of cheese between her fingers until it was warm and soft. She offered a shred of roast beef from her plate. The pup accepted none of these.

Near midnight, exhausted, they took the foundling upstairs and set it in the crib with a saucer of formula. Almondine pressed her nose through the bars and sniffed. The pup crawled toward the sound and shut his eyes and lay with hind legs outstretched, pads up, while the bells in the mobile chimed.

Trudy woke that night to find Almondine pacing the bedroom floor. The pup lay glassy-­eyed in the crib, without the strength to lift his head. She pulled the rocking chair to the window and set the pup in her lap. The clouds had passed and in the light of the half-­moon the pup’s fur was silver-­tipped. Almondine slid her muzzle along Trudy’s thigh. She drew the pup’s scent for a long time, then lay down, and the shadow of the rocking chair drifted back and forth over her.

In the pup’s final hour, Trudy whispered to it about the black seed inside her as though it might somehow understand. She stroked the fuzz on its chest as it turned its eyes to her, and in the dark they made a bar-­ gain that one of them would go and one would stay.

When Gar woke, he knew where he would find Trudy. This time it was he who cried. They buried the pup under the birches near the ba-­ by’s grave - both of them unnamed, but this newest grave unmarked as well - and now, instead of rain, the sun shone down with what little consolation it could give. When they finished, Edgar’s parents returned to the kennel and went to work, their work, the work that never ended, for the dogs were hungry, and one of the mothers was sick and her pups would have to be hand-­fed and the yearlings, unruly and headstrong, desperately needed training.

Edgar didn’t learn that story all at once. He assembled it, bit by bit, signing a question and fitting together another piece. Sometimes they declared that they didn’t want to talk about it just then, or changed the subject, trying perhaps to protect him from the fact that there was no happy ending to some stories. And yet they didn’t want to lie to him either.

Excerpted from The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski Copyright © 2008 by David Wroblewski. Excerpted by permission of Ecco, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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