Sunday, March 20, 2011

An Astounding Epic

I have just finished one of those books that is not common or everyday. It is the work of a remarkable storyteller who has a story that sinks deep into the soul. The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski. It is a book of spirit and the longings of the human heart. It is a story about a boy and his dogs, but to stop there is to say that A Tale of Two Cities is about a seamstress. It is a study of how we live and what drives us to incredible heights or devastating depths.

As Wikipedia sums it up,

the novel is a retelling of Shakespeare's Hamlet in rural Wisconsin. The titular character is a mute boy who, after his father is killed, runs away from but then returns to his usurped home, hoping to prove his suspicions that his uncle murdered his father.
In the midst of that seemingly innocuous summation is some of the best writing and descriptive passages written in years. On the edge of the Chequamegon National Forest in northern Wisconsin, it is filled with the magical realism of other cultures, but which anyone from that type of geography knows is possible in those kinds of ancient woodlands. Land and people, weather and animals all blend together in a rich interaction. When that happens, life is changed. When that it ignored or disturbed by human intervention or evil, the results are far from what we would want them to be.

In many ways the darkness of the soul that Wroblewski portrays over against the way things could be, is an ancient retelling of the Garden of Eden. Here, though, the serpent has long left the land and taken over human hearts. It is a long and rich book. I don't know if I could read it again, as Stephen King suggests. The strength comes from its surprises and mystical arc.

I have been moved by Wroblewski's prose, the voiceless singing of Edgar's soul, and the amazing loyalty of the Sawtelle dogs. It is a wonderful book!

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