It wasn’t until about halfway through this book that I decided to give it more than 1 or 2 stars. No, really. In fact, the ending tore me apart so much (not to mention left me wanting answers to some very big questions), that I almost gave it less than 4 stars.
Yes, the other negative reviews are correct; there is quite a bit wrong with the novel. It’s choppy, and the mish mash of poorly executed ideas doesn’t make the sense that God gave a goat.
I’m not alone in this sentiment, either. One quick look at Goodreads will let you know that many other people feel this way. The difference is, those people have given a poor rating, whereas I haven’t. Confused? Me too.
Here I was, halfway through the book, getting seriously annoyed because I just *knew* that Wroblewski wasn’t going to explain why his Uncle was evil, why his mother slept with her brother-in-law when her husband was barely cold in the ground (these are not spoilers, so don’t worry), why the woman in the store was weird (odd? bizarre? you pick). Readers are just supposed to accept these things because of a nod to the genius of William Shakespeare.
Yes, you read that right. He attempted to mix the infamous, immortal stories of Shakespeare with his contemporary, coming-of-age, boy tries to survive in the woods with *really frickin’ smart* dogs. Yes, the endless pages of dog training seemed pointless, but was it? I’m not so sure anymore.
After awhile, I started to fall in love. I fell in love with the flow of the jumbled words, the choppiness of it all, I fell in love with Edgar and especially Almondine. I even started to appreciate the peculiarity of Rita, the bony-fingered, fortune telling cashier.
I learned so much about character building from Henry, the man that Edgar encounters during his survival days in the wilderness. Wroblewski walked a very fine line between writing a nerdy, social outcast and turning him into a caricature of a real person.
Overall, it was pretty enlightening to read between those lines.
Plus, I loved the fact that Wroblewski added elements of spirituality that could’ve easily turned his novel into a smorgasbord of ideas that didn’t fit together and was too all over the place for most people to want to follow.
Last but not least: Almondine. I love her. I can’t say that enough. Her quiet, nurturing dignity was a treasure to behold. Here’s an excerpt:
To her, the scent and the memory of him were one. Where it lay strongest, the distant past came to her as if that morning: Taking a dead sparrow from her jaws, before she knew to hide such things. Guiding her to the floor, bending her knee until the arthritis made it stick, his palm hotsided on her ribs to measure her breaths and know where the pain began. And to comfort her. That had been the week before he went away.
He was gone, she knew this, but something of him clung to the baseboards. At times the floor quivered under his footstep. She stood then and nosed into the kitchen and the bathroom and the bedroom-especially the closet-her intention to press her ruff against his hand, run it along his thigh, feel the heat of his body through the fabric.
Places, times, weather-all these drew him up inside her. Rain, especially, falling past the double doors of the kennel, where he’d waited through so many storms, each drop throwing a dozen replicas into the air as it struck the waterlogged earth. And where the rising and falling water met, something like an expectation formed, a place where he might appear and pass in long strides, silent and gestureless. For she was not without her own selfish desires: to hold things motionless, to measure herself against them and find herself present, to know that she was alive precisely because he needn’t acknowledge her in casual passing; that utter constancy might prevail if she attended the world so carefully. And if not constancy, then only those changes she desired, not those that sapped her, undefined her.
And so she searched. She’d watched his casket lowered into the ground, a box, man-made, no more like him than the trees that swayed under the winter wind. To assign him an identity outside the world was not in her thinking. The fence line where he walked and the bed where he slept-that was where he lived, and they remembered him.
Yet he was gone. She knew it most keenly in the diminishment of her own self. In her life, she’d been nourished and sustained by certain things, him being one of them, Trudy another, and Edgar, the third and most important, but it was really the three of them together, intersecting in her, for each of them powered her heart a different way. Each of them bore different responsibilities to her and with her and required different things from her, and her day was the fulfillment of those responsibilities. She could not imagine that portion of her would never return. With her it was not hope, or wistful thoughts-it was her sense of being alive that thinned by the proportion of her spirit devoted to him.
As spring came on, his scent about the place began to fade. She stopped looking for him. Whole days she slept beside his chair, as the sunlight drifted from eastern-slant to western-slant, moving only to ease the weight of her bones against the floor.
And Trudy and Edgar, encapsulated in mourning, somehow forgot to care for one another, let alone her. Or if they knew, their grief and heartache overwhelmed them. Anyway, there was so little they might have done, save to bring out a shirt of his to lie on, perhaps walk with her along the fence line, where fragments of time had snagged and hung. But if they noticed her grief, they hardly knew to do those things. And she without the language to ask.”
― David Wroblewski, The Story of Edgar Sawtelle
I don’t have the words to say how much I love this, how much I love her. So I’ll just say she makes me want to get another dog and name her Almondine. This makes me want to hold her close and shelter her from the cruelty of separation and death. It makes me wish more than anything that we could communicate with animals.