I decided it’s time to, kind of, move on to writing about other things than Mom, although I’m sure my thoughts on her death and life will continue to appear here frequently, even in this post.
Last week, when Dad and I knew we would be driving to NC, we picked up The Story of Edgar Sawtelleon CD at the library. We got a couple of discs into it, but at the time, we needed quiet and conversation more than distraction I guess because we didn’t listen to much of it.
But as I’ve been driving around the past couple of days, I’ve been listening to the book, and it is amazing. It’s a hard listen for me since the father in the book dies, but it’s profoundly well-written and honest. The basic story is that Edgar Sawtelle is a boy who grows up on a rural Wisconsin farm where he and his parents breed and train “Sawtelle dogs,” large dogs that aren’t a pure-bred form. The book tells of Edgar’s experiences on the farm with his dog Almondine and the other pups, including a litter his parents let him whelp and raise until they are placed with other owners. When Edgar is in his early teens, his father drops dead suddenly of an aneurysm, and Edgar and his mother are left to run the kennel.
The tale is sparse in characters – Edgar, his parents, his uncle Claude, a vet, a sheriff – and so it is like seeing a small town up-close where all the people know more than they probably should about each other. The dogs are rich as characters, too; so far, my favorite part of the book is when Almondine, Edgar’s companion dog, is given voice to share her grief over Edgar’s father. She wishes that Edgar or his mother would take her for a walk along the fenceline where the barbed wire had “snagged moments of time” with Edgar’s father. What a beautiful image.
There is another element of the book for which I really respect Wroblewski: he has created a protagnoist, Edgar, who has a disability (Edgar can’t speak) but has written a book that is not at all about Edgar’s disability. At moments, Edgar’s lack of speech becomes important, but only in the way another character’s height or eye color or location might become important. It is not a feature; it is only a fact. That’s really lovely and fresh.
The book has reminded me – yet again – of why I read. It has given me new language and new images on which to lay my grief. I find myself thinking of walking the land here on this farm to see where memories of Mom may have snagged themselves – in the gardens, on a deciduous holly bush, on the eaves of this, her house.
– The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski