In November 2008, I started a book club. It's mostly friends from grad school, and we meet about every six weeks at someone's house for wine and snacks. We usually talk about the book 50% of the time and catch up on each other's lives the other 50%. Attendance varies--there are probably about 20 women on the email list, and we usually have about 8-12 people at each meeting. The hostess generally chooses the book, and it is fun to see people's different styles. I've read a lot of books that I don't think I would have picked up otherwise, and it's nice being exposed to different types of literature.
In February, we were supposed to read The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski. I didn't get a chance to read it before the discussion, but I picked it up from the library afterward and I finished it over the weekend. I really wish I had read it before the meeting because now I'd like to have a discussion about it! Oh well.
It was an Oprah book selection back in 2008. We always try to pick books that have been out for a bit so that people have a better chance of finding them in libraries, used, or in paperback.
I had read a bit about the book before going to the meeting in February, so I knew it was a Hamlet allegory before I began reading it. I'm not sure I would have picked up on it otherwise--I'm not the sharpest at seeing connections like that. But with an uncle named Claude, a mother named Trudy, visions of a murdered father's ghost....okay, maybe even I would have seen the parallels. It was a pretty neat idea, and I don't mean to imply that Wroblewski's book isn't original. It is. But having the structure and certain character traits borrowed from one of the greatest works of English literature doesn't hurt!
I love dogs and I grew up with a dog, and I think that helped me really enjoy reading Edgar Sawtelle. My dog was purebred, so I also know something about breeding genealogy. I'm not sure that someone who does not like dogs would like the book as much, because there are a LOT of pages that are just all about dogs--breeding, training, bonding. There are a lot of pages that are fairly extraneous in general, frankly--my biggest criticism of the book is the pacing. I understand and appreciate a slow build, but I skipped about 75 pages of the "Henry" section and I don't think I missed anything. I think the book could have benefited from better editing.
I really liked the relationship between Edgar and Almondine. The chapters told from her point of view were really special. I also thought the Gar-Claude relationship was well done. I have questions about Trudy's character....did she realize Claude killed her husband? I don't think she did, which is a marked difference from Gertrude in Hamlet.
The speech pathology information was very interesting, and I thought the descriptions of Gar's and Trudy's feelings about their pregnancy losses were very compelling and moving.
I would recommend this book, although with the caveat that it's not going to hurt to skim parts of it if it's just getting too prose-happy for you. I wonder what Wroblewski will do next--if his next book is also based off a Shakespeare structure, I think it'll seem like he's using the past as a crutch, which is disappointing.