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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Book Reviewed by:
Amy Reading

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Print Excerpt

On the living room wall hung a picture of his parents taken the day a judge in Ashland married them, Gar in a gray suit, Trudy in a knee- length

white dress. They held a bouquet of flowers between them and bore expressions so solemn Edgar almost couldn’t recognize them. His father asked Doctor Papineau, the veterinarian, to watch the dogs while he and Trudy honeymooned in Door County. Edgar had seen snapshots taken with his father’s Brownie camera: the two of them sitting on a pier, Lake Michigan in the background. That was it, all the evidence: a mar-­ riage license in the ammo box, a few pictures with wavy edges.

When they returned, Trudy began to share in the work of the kennel. Gar concentrated on the breeding and whelping and placing while Trudy took charge of the training - something that, no matter how they’d met, she shined at. Edgar’s father freely admitted his limitations as a trainer. He was too kindhearted, too willing to let the dogs get close to per-­ forming a command without getting it right. The dogs he trained never learned the difference between a sit and a down and a stay - they’d get the idea that they ought to remain approximately where they were, but sometimes they’d slide to the floor, or take a few steps and then sit, or sit up when they should have stayed down, or sit down when they should have stood still. Always, Edgar’s father was more interested in what the dogs chose to do, a predilection he’d acquired from his own father. Trudy changed all that. As a trainer, she was relentless and precise, moving with the same crisp economy Edgar had noticed in teachers and nurses. And she had singular reflexes - she could correct a dog on lead so fast you’d burst out laughing to see it. Her hands would fly up and drop to her waist again in a flash, and the dog’s collar would tighten with a quiet chink and fall slack again, just that fast, like watching a sleight- of-hand trick. The dog was left with a surprised look and no idea who’d hit the lead. In the winter they used the front of the cavernous hay mow for training, straw bales arranged as barriers, working the dogs in an enclosed world bounded by the loose scatter of straw underfoot and the roughhewn ridge beam above, the knotty roof planks a dark dome shot through with shingling nails and pinpoints of daylight and the crisscross of rafters hovering in the middle heights and the whole back half of the mow stacked ten, eleven, twelve high with yellow bales of straw. The open space was still enormous. Working there with the dogs, Trudy was at her most charismatic and imperious. Edgar had seen her cross the mow at a dead run, grab the collar of a dog who refused to down, and bring it to the floor, all in a single balletic arc. Even the dog had been impressed: it capered and spun and licked her face as though she had performed a miracle on its behalf.

Even if Edgar’s parents remained playfully evasive on the subject of how they’d met, other questions they answered directly. Sometimes they lapsed into stories about Edgar himself, his birth, how they’d worried over his voice, how he and Almondine had played together from before he was out of his crib. Because he worked beside them every day in the kennel - grooming, naming, and handling the dogs while they waited turns for training - he had plenty of chances to sign questions and wait and listen. In quieter moments they even talked about the sad things that had happened. Saddest of all was the story of that cross under the birches in the south field.

They wanted a baby. This was the fall of 1954 and they’d been mar-­ ried three years. They converted one of the upstairs bedrooms into a nurs-­ ery and bought a rocking chair and a crib with a mobile and a dresser, all painted white, and they moved their own bedroom upstairs to the room across the hall. That spring Trudy got pregnant. After three months she miscarried. When winter came she was pregnant again, and again she miscarried at three months. They went to a doctor in Marshfield who asked what they ate, what medicines they took, how much they smoked and drank. The doctor tested his mother’s blood and declared her per-­ fectly healthy. Some women are prone, the doctor said. Hold off a year. He told her not to exert herself.

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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