Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Edgar Sawtelle is not a novel

In my book group recently, we discussed the book Edgar Sawtelle and why it's a favorite for so many people. We discussed the characters, the plot, the references to Hamlet...and stalking the edges of each of these topics was an uneasy quiet. Very few of us had much to contribute about any of them. chatter? Just last month we were enjoying a vibrant conversation about Andrew Davidson's book Gargoyle, with its richly fleshed-out personalities and deep layers of meaning. We were reading Dante's inferno to understand the references from one book to the other. And now -- nothing to say?

And finally I got it. For me, Wrobleski's strength is not in his characters or his plot. They're just the props.  Wrobleski is a philosopher -- and he's written a book with some of the best bits of prose I've seen.  I'm not certain it's a "novel" in the truest sense, and that's where looking for those traditional elements left us confused.  The pieces don't fit together in terms of plot and character in the usual manner, but I think you have to enjoy this book in a different way, finding the wisdom in the insightful passages that are patched together and sandwiched between the excuses of plot and characters. Wrobleski's insight into the connection between the human and canine psyches is keenly perceptive and when he strikes his target in this domain he is brilliant.

Two of my personal favorite quotes are from a chapter towards the end of the book. Almondine (the dog) is old and at the end of her life. Edgar (her boy) has been gone for many weeks, and she can't understand where he has gone or when he'll come back. She tries to make sense of it. (p.460)

The closet was as puzzled as she, the bed silent on the question. It was not out of the question that he had learned the secret of flight, and the window was not too small for him to pass through. There, sleeping on his bed at night, she would be the first to see him when he returned. Old as she was, she still had questions to ask him, things to show him. She worried about him. She needed to find him, whole or changed, but know in any case, and she would taste the salt of his neck.

Who else can get inside the head of a dog like that? That is exactly the way I see my dog thinking. For me, it's absolute perfection. 

And in this last quote, she is close to the end of her life and reflecting back on it.

She had learned, in her life, that time lived inside you. You are time, you breathe time. When she'd been young, she'd had an insatiable hunger for more of it, though she hadn't understood why. Now she held inside her a cacophony of times, and lately it drowned out the world."

This isn't just about dogs, is it? It's about me and you -- all of us. And maybe it's because I'm starting to fill up with those times that live inside us that I understand it completely. We each hope to live to a point where we can say, "If I die now, it's enough. I've done enough.  I'm filled up with my times."   

May you each be filled with the best times of your lives.


Rose said...

How beautiful. It made me somewhat emotional...

Lizzi said...

Wonderful review! My face-to-face book group also read this book (I'm still reading it) and we came to a similar conclusion.

GardeningJo said...

I started reading Edgar in November, but had to return it to the library. I bought it from after the holidays and recently started reading it for this months CoL group read (along with Jane Eyre, krikey!) and I am so far behind in the discussion(s) because I am reading Edgar slowly. Slowly in that I am savoring each word, each detail. It's truly unique and wonderful.

Brenda said...

There was something nagging me about the novel. I enjoyed it, but it didn't capture me. I think because I knew it was loosely based on Hamlet, I wasn't that invested.

Your blog has made me think of it in a new light. I haven't really participated in the discussion of the book, but maybe we should have looked at it from the philosophical points of view rather than in the traditional way.

Thanks for posting that!

Brenda said...

And, maybe that's the other thing that ties it to Hamlet. I mean really Shakespeare's stories are very basic, but the's the words that people have been coming back to forever.

City.Girl.Em said...

Hey Teri,
Just a little reminder to let you know today is the Rag Doll Challenge. Let's see your doll, or how far you've gotten!

Can't wait to see it.

Kalanna said...

Ooooo. You make me want to read this one, even if I am late.

Thauna said...

I'm way behind on reading this one...need to get to it. Your post has made me want to get back to reading it.

Hannah Banana said...

I just started reading this book so I'm skipping your post until later but had to say what lovely flowers!

dragyonfly said...

I really didn't get all of that from this book, I guess I'm not "deep" enough but I didn't really like it much, but kept reading because I wanted to know what happened in the end. I never read much Shakespear probably because I didn't get that either...LOL.
I guess Im a bare bones reader.
When someone told me that that movie "Oh, Brothers, where art thou?" was based on the Oddessey, well I just couldn't believe it, but then I watched it again, with that knowledge and got it, but it was a stretch for me.
Just thought I would put my two cents in from the "shallow" section. LOL.