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 by David Wroblewski X
The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski
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  • First Published:
    Jun 2008, 576 pages
    Paperback:
    Oct 2009, 480 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Amy Reading

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25 1/4 + 3 1/4 = 28 1/2

On another beam, a scribbled list:
lard flour tar 5 gal matches coffee 2 lb nails

Edgar was shocked to find words inside the walls of his house, scrawled by a man no one had ever seen. It made him want to peel open every wall, see what might be written along the roofline, under the stairs, above the doors. In time, by thought alone, Edgar constructed an image of Schultz so detailed he needn’t even squint his eyes to call it up. Most important of all, he understood why Schultz had so mysteriously abandoned the farm: he’d grown lonely. After the fourth winter, Schultz couldn’t stand it anymore, alone with the ponies and the cows and no one to talk to, no one to see what he had done or listen to what had happened - no one to witness his life at all. In Schultz’s time, as in Edgar’s, no neighbors lived within sight. The nights must have been eerie.

And so Schultz moved away, maybe south to Milwaukee or west to St. Paul, hoping to find a wife to return with him, help clear the rest of the land, start a family. Yet something kept him away. Perhaps his bride abhorred farm life. Perhaps someone fell sick. Impossible to know any of it, yet Edgar felt sure Schultz had accepted his grandfather’s offer with misgivings. And that, he imagined, was the real reason the words kept falling off the telegram.

Of course, there was no reason to worry, and Edgar knew that, too. All that had happened forty years before he was born. His grandfather and grandmother moved to the farm without incident, and by Edgar’s time it had been the Sawtelle place for as long as anyone could remember. John Sawtelle got work at the veneer mill in town and rented out the fields Schultz had cleared. Whenever he came across a dog he admired, he made a point to get down and look it in the eye. Sometimes he cut a deal with the owner. He converted the giant barn into a kennel, and there Edgar’s grandfather honed his gift for breeding dogs, dogs so unlike the shepherds and hounds and retrievers and sled dogs he used as foundation stock they became known simply as Sawtelle dogs.

And John and Mary Sawtelle raised two boys as different from one another as night and day. One son stayed on the land after Edgar’s grand-­ father retired to town a widower, and the other son left, they thought, for good.

The one that stayed was Edgar’s father, Gar Sawtelle.

His parents married late in life. Gar was over thirty, Trudy, a few years younger, and the story of how they met changed depending on whom Edgar asked and who was within earshot.

“It was love at first sight,” his mother would tell him, loudly. “He couldn’t take his eyes off me. It was embarrassing, really. I married him out of a sense of mercy.”

“Don’t you believe it,” his father would shout from another room. “She chased me like a madwoman! She threw herself at my feet every chance she got. Her doctors said she could be a danger to herself unless I agreed to take her in.”

On this topic, Edgar never got the same story twice. Once, they’d met at a dance in Park Falls. Another time, she’d stopped to help him fix a flat on his truck.

No, really, Edgar had pleaded.

The truth was, they were longtime pen pals. They’d met in a doctor’s office, both of them dotted with measles. They’d met in a department store at Christmas, grabbing for the last toy on the shelf. They’d met while Gar was placing a dog in Wausau. Always, they played off each other, building the story into some fantastic adventure in which they shot their way out of danger, on the run to Dillinger’s hideout in the north woods. Edgar knew his mother had grown up across the Minnesota border from Superior, handed from one foster family to another, but that was about all. She had no sisters or brothers, and no one from her side of the family came to visit. Letters addressed to her sometimes arrived, but she didn’t hurry to open them.

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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