David Wroblewski’s The Story of Edgar Sawtelle (2008) explores the silent world of the novel’s protagonist, Edgar Sawtelle. Edgar lives in Wisconsin during the middle of the twentieth century. Born mute, he is a teenager who seems to prefer the language of dogs more than the words of the adults around him. From his earliest memories, his favorite job on the farm was to name the new puppies that were born there. He chooses names randomly from a dictionary. As he grows older, his connection with the dogs becomes more profound. He helps to train them through sign language.
Wroblewski begins his novel with Edgar’s grandfather, telling readers about how the dog farm began. When Edgar’s father, Gar, dies suspiciously, Edgar blames his uncle Claude, his father’s younger brother, who has meant nothing but trouble for the family. When Claude makes romantic overtures to Edgar’s mother, Trudy, Edgar is outraged.
The story is filled with loving family memories until Claude arrives. Claude spends most of his time in the barn or at the local bar. The details of Claude’s life are sketchy at best and Edgar finds Claude to be two-faced. The man presents his best side to Edgar’s mother. She falls for him, allowing him to fill in the vacant spaces left behind from her husband’s death. Edgar sees the other side of Claude, a side that Edgar finds dangerous.
When tensions become too strong between Edgar and Claude, Edgar takes his favorite dogs and runs away from home. For the story itself, this tension raises the level of curiosity for the reader. It is at this point that the novel takes on the form of a mystery or a sort of detective story. Edgar fears the police are looking for him because of an accidental death that he played a part in. Readers worry that Edgar might be caught because Claude is suggesting to local officials that Edgar committed murder. In the end, it is Edgar versus Claude—a fight to the finish. Unfortunately, there are no winners.
The Story of Edgar Sawtelle was Wroblewski’s first novel. It took him ten years to complete it. Literary critics praise the author’s writing, especially in the first half of the story. Some critics, however, have found the second half to be too artificially manipulated.
In 1952 South Korea, a man walks in the rain among the narrow streets of Pusan in an unfamiliar district. He is the only serviceman in sight. He is searching for a sign showing a turtle with two snakes. The streets meander, and he is becoming confused. When it is past midnight, the man retraces his steps and finally sees the sign, looking exactly as Pak said it would. He looks for an alley opposite the sign and walks down it to a doorway with a red lantern. It is the door of an herbalist’s shop. He hears a recording of Doris Day singing “Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered.” He knocks on the door, which is opened by an old man dressed in simple clothes. The old man knows only a little English. He tells the serviceman to talk slowly.
The old man asks him if he has brought medicine, stating that he has money to pay for it. The serviceman explains that he is not looking for money. He explains that he is looking for a poison that will kill “rats” without the other rats becoming suspicious. It should look like a natural death. The old man points out that only God can take life away with no sign. The serviceman says that this is what he is looking for. Everyone has the power to take away life. It is only the method that is different. He wants a poison that will use God’s method.
A three-legged dog passes by outside in the rain. The old man asks the serviceman if it is his dog, but it is not. The old man goes in the back of his shop and returns with a small clay soup pot in one hand and a small bamboo box in the other. He sets the pot on the cobblestones in the street. From the bamboo box he withdraws a glass bottle, shaped like a perfume or ink bottle. The glass is crude and is sealed with wax. The old man picks away the wax, takes out a small reed cut into a needle, and dips the reed into the bottle. The serviceman sees a small drop shimmering on the point.
The old man calls to the dog, which comes to drink the soup from the pot. The serviceman, guessing what the old man is about to do, tells him that it is unnecessary. However, the old man pierces the dog with the reed. The serviceman is upset as the poison begins its work and the dog quietly dies. The old man replaces the bottle into the box and gives it to the serviceman. He kicks the pot out into the street where it shatters, explaining that it is better to destroy it than risk being poisoned. The serviceman gives him penicillin, which is for the old...
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Part 1, Chapters 1-2 Summary
Schultz, a former lumberman, gave up his trade when the chain broke on his truck and a man was killed by the falling timber right where he had been standing. Finding a property for sale deep in the Wisconsin woods, Schultz builds a home, but abandons it after five years. John Sawtelle is traveling through and sees a dog he likes. He arranges to trade puppies with the owner and discovers the property as he investigates the area. With his wife, John begins a kennel in which he breeds and trains dogs. John has two sons, one who stays on the farm (Gar) and one who leaves. Gar marries Trudy, who takes over the dog-training aspect of the business.
Gar and Trudy deeply love each other. The one tragedy that the young couple experiences is their difficulty in having a child. After two miscarriages, Trudy carries a baby almost to full term, but the baby arrives prematurely, stillborn. Gar builds a rough coffin, and they bury their baby near the house. As Gar is covering up the grave, he sees that Trudy is unconscious and takes her to the hospital. She recovers and returns home.
Gar paints a wooden cross for their baby’s grave. As he is taking it to the site, he sees a bundle of leaves in the stream, and from the leaves he hears a faint cry. He recovers the bundle to discover a puppy about three weeks old. Gar surmises that it might be a wolf cub. He takes it home to Trudy, who patiently tries to get it to eat, unsuccessfully. The pup dies, and Gar buries it near the grave of their baby. Trudy eventually brings a baby to full term and names him Edgar after his father. Soon, Gar and Trudy notice something wrong when the baby tries to cry, so they call the doctor.
Almondine, Gar and Trudy’s house dog, is aware that something is going to happen. She feels restless, separated from her kennel mates. She feels that she has nothing significant to do. When Edgar is born, Trudy warns Almondine not to lick the baby, but Almondine stays close. As Trudy sleeps, Almondine hears a small sound. She realizes that the baby is trying to cry but has no voice. Edgar is born mute. Almondine awakens Trudy, who feeds the baby. Almondine is satisfied; she now has a job to do.
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Part 1, Chapters 3-4 Summary
Trudy and Gar take Edgar to several doctors, who put him through several tests without finding any cause for his inability to speak. Finally, Trudy decides she does not want to put her baby through a childhood of poking and prodding. She takes him to an old woman, Ida Paine, who tells her that he will never learn to speak but that he can use his hands to communicate. Discouraged, Trudy returns home. One day a woman drives up and introduces herself as Louisa Wilkes, the aunt of one of the Sawtelles’ neighbors who is watching one of their dogs. She is not sure why she is there, but she explains that she was directed by Ida Paine to visit the Sawtelles. She examines Edgar, asking Trudy what information the doctors have shared with them. Louisa explains that her parents were deaf, so she learned to sign as she learned to speak from radio and records. She tells Trudy and Gar that they must begin immediately to use signs when communicating with Edgar. In this way, Edgar will pick it up in the same way he would pick up spoken language by listening to his parents. Louisa tells them that all babies want to communicate. If they do not learn a formal language, they will invent one by themselves. She teaches Trudy and Gar a few simple signs so that they can begin to communicate with Edgar by the only way he will learn language.
The first memory that Edgar has is of waking up to see Almondine’s nose stuck through the bars of his crib. He remembers running all over the farm, chased by Almondine. He signs books to the dogs, believing that they understand at least some of it. The doctor brings a deaf man to visit Edgar, who is astonished that a deaf person looks like everyone else. Edgar shows the man how Almondine responds to his signs.
Edgar visits the kennel where his father is tending a dog that has had pups but whose health is failing. The veterinarian comes and puts the dog to sleep after Gar sends Edgar up to the house. During one particularly bad storm, Edgar and Trudy, along with Almondine, hide in the cellar, while Gar watches the storm approaching. The wind blows for a very long time, but when they come out of the cellar, Edgar and Trudy see that the only damage visible is that the blossoms have blown off the apple tree. Behind the house, they hear Gar call out to them. The boards on the barn roof have been curled back, as if a giant had twisted them around his fingers.
(The entire section is 445 words.)
Part 1, Chapters 5-6 Summary
A week after the storm, Gar goes on a long drive to pick up his brother, Claude, and bring him back. Edgar, knowing he will not be allowed to go along for the ride, helps his mother clean up the spare room, which had been used as a work room. Trudy explains that Edgar has never seen his uncle, and she has seen him only once. When Gar returns with Claude, Edgar sees the resemblance between the two men and reflects that this is what it means to have a brother.
During the night, Edgar awakens and sees Claude going down to the kennel. He watches the lights come on and manages to sneak down the stairs and out the back door without being discovered. He finds Claude lying on the floor with a bottle of alcohol. When Claude wakes up, he explains to Edgar that the spare room seemed just like the prison cell from which he had been released (though he does not explain it in these terms, as Edgar’s parents did not want Claude to tell Edgar about his imprisonment). Claude offers Edgar some whiskey, but Edgar refuses. He returns to his room, and the next morning he discovers Claude looking hung over. Claude offers to re-roof the barn, and he and Gar go to town to pick some lumber and supplies.
One morning, as Edgar and his father are taking their usual morning walk, Edgar spots a stray dog in the distance. He sees its distinctive markings as well as the unusual angles of its body. Eventually, the dog begins coming close to the house. Claude resents the dogs as an intruder, and Trudy worries that some of the female dogs are in heat. Gar and Edgar begin to set out food, hoping to draw the dog closer to the house. Each morning, the food dish is empty, but it is eventually determined that squirrels have been eating out of the dish. When Edgar tells him that the stray, which Edgar has named Forte, took after a deer, Claude states that it will never come to the house once it learns it can find food on its own. Claude takes his gun out one day, tracking some deer. Edgar, followed by Almondine, goes after Claude. When Claude takes aim at a doe, Edgar urges Almondine forward to distract Claude. However, Claude manages to shoot the doe. Claude tells Edgar that it was the stray that killed the doe, while he shot it to put it out of its misery. After that, Edgar and Claude have an unspoken pact: Claude will not try to find and kill the stray, while Edgar will not tell that it was Claude who killed the deer.
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Part 1, Chapters 7-8 Summary
Gar tells Edgar that when Iris has puppies, that litter will be all his. Edgar will be responsible for the puppies' whelping (birth), feeding, training, and placement in new homes. Edgar is excited and grateful for the opportunity. School is almost out, so he hopes that Iris will wait until summer vacation begins.
On Saturday, the first day of vacation, Edgar watches Iris closely. She paces and seems restless all day. Edgar wants to stay with her, but Gar tells him that this will make her nervous and might cause her to eat her puppies in order to keep them from others. Edgar checks on her every half hour, but there is no progress all day. After supper, Gar tells Edgar to gather up the needed supplies and arrange them around the whelping room. Iris eventually gives birth to her first puppy. Edgar carefully washes and dries it, then places it where Iris can reach it. Puppies arrive at about the rate of one every half hour. After three or four puppies are born, Iris gives birth to a stillborn. Gar assures Edgar that he did nothing wrong: sometimes a puppy just is not strong enough to withstand the birthing process. When Iris is finished, there are three females and four males. Edgar is happy but exhausted. He eats his supper then returns to the kennel to spend the night there, watching over Iris and her new litter.
By October, another litter has arrived, but this one is Claude’s to care for. The family spends time playing cards, with a friendly rivalry between the two Sawtelle brothers on one side, and Edgar and Trudy on the other. Edgar has managed to find appropriate names for all the puppies, his source being the dictionary. In the margin of the dictionary, Edgar records each puppy’s number and birth date.
The barn roof has long been repaired, and Edgar spends time walking in the autumn woods, hoping to see some sign of Forte, the stray dog. Gar, Claude, and Edgar go out to chop wood for the winter. Edgar is eager to drive the tractor. As they reach the timber spot, it begins to rain. Claude insists on continuing, despite Gar’s objections that the rain will damage the chain saw, as well as make it more dangerous as the saw hits the wet wood. Gar becomes irate and leaves with Edgar. Claude returns later with the wood and carefully cleans the saw. Claude and Gar become increasingly belligerent toward each other.
On the television news, Edgar hears about the Starchild Colony, which is a commune on...
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Part 1, Chapters 9-10 Summary
Edgar listens as his father and uncle fight, and then to the sound of the truck being driven away. He goes downstairs, but it is dark. His mother hears him and tells him not to ask his father a lot of questions. Edgar asks her if Claude is coming back. Trudy says that he will not, not after this fight. She tells Edgar that they tried to help Claude, but Claude did not want help. The next morning, Gar looks visibly embarrassed at having been in a fight.
The fall of the year is relatively mild, with snow holding off until the holidays. Christmas and New Year’s Eve are spent alone with the family. Trudy teaches Edgar to dance until Gar cuts in. In January, there is a thaw, and much of the snow melts. Edgar makes a great deal of improvement in his training of the puppies. One day, when sleet begins to fall, Gar is taking care of a new litter of puppies. He explains to Edgar that he is going into the kennel to clean up, while Edgar plays with the puppies. As Edgar goes back into the kennel, he sees his father lying on the floor. He rushes to him to ask what the matter is, but Gar cannot speak, and his breathing is becoming erratic. Trudy is not home, so Edgar calls the operator but cannot tell her who he is or where he lives. Frustrated, Edgar beats the phone on the counter, shattering it, and goes out to check on his father. He puts his ear to his chest and hears a single breath being let out slowly. There is nothing more. Edgar and Almondine wait for Trudy to return home.
Edgar waits until he hears the sound of tires on the ice. His hands are bleeding from being cut when he smashed the phone. He cannot move, but when he sees that it is Doctor Papineau, the veterinarian, he tries to walk but stumbles, going into shock. Doctor Papineau catches him and takes him inside. Edgar awakens to find his hands bandaged. He tries to go out to the kennel to see his father, but Doctor Papineau stops him. The vet calls for an ambulance and for someone to find Trudy as soon as possible. When she returns home, Edgar is unwilling to talk about what happened, thinking that if he says nothing, it will go away. The sheriff, who is the vet’s son, tells her that eventually he will have to talk to Edgar to file his report. Doctor Papineau volunteers to stay the night. He cooks dinner while Trudy and Edgar go back out to the kennel to do the chores.
(The entire section is 452 words.)
Part 2, Chapters 1-2 Summary
Doctor Papineau spends the night at the Sawtelles’ home, sleeping in the spare bedroom while Edgar and Trudy sleep downstairs in the living room. Edgar feels that he is somehow keeping watch over his family. Before going to sleep, Trudy makes some calls, including one to Claude. She finds it more difficult than she had imagined. In the morning, Trudy and Edgar go to the sheriff’s office so that Edgar can give his report to Glen, the sheriff. Edgar has difficulty remembering details. He knows that he was upstairs in the barn training some of the dogs and could not hear anything going on downstairs. He does not remember actually finding Gar, but he knows that he must have. He explains that Gar was not yet dead, but he could not speak. Edgar does not remember how he got in the house or breaking the phone.
After leaving the sheriff’s office, Trudy and Gar go to the funeral. An autopsy had been necessary, and it was discovered that Gar died from an aneurysm. Trudy calls some men to come to the farm to dig Gar’s grave. When they arrive, the men discover that the ground is too frozen to dig up. Frustrated because the funeral is the next day, Trudy becomes irate. Edgar suggests that they start a bonfire on the spot to thaw the ground. At the funeral, Claude and many of the people who had received a Sawtelle dog show up. After the funeral dinner and the departure of all the guests, Trudy and Edgar finally collapse and get some much needed sleep.
Trudy confronts Edgar with the facts of their future. To keep the kennel going will require a phenomenal amount of work from both of them. She suggests that they might want to sell off all the dogs as well as the farm and move to town. Edgar adamantly refuses to do this. Trudy warns him that he must get more serious about the training. At the moment, Edgar sees the dogs as playmates, but in reality they are the family’s livelihood. Edgar is shocked to learn that each dog they sell is worth over a thousand dollars.
While digging through the kennel files, Edgar finds some old letters of his grandfather’s. He learns what John Sawtelle’s goal was: to create a new breed of dog. John had written to Alvin Brooks, a foremost dog breeder, who at first strongly discouraged him. Through the letters, Edgar discovers that his grandfather wanted to breed “the next dog,” a higher form of canine on the evolutionary scale. Through these letters, Edgar realizes the seriousness of...
(The entire section is 446 words.)
Part 2, Chapters 3-4 Summary
A few weeks after Gar’s funeral, Edgar begins to have dreams about his father. In Edgar’s dreams, Gar is doing simple, ordinary things, such as going for the mail or walking along the fence lines. One night Edgar dreams that he and his father are walking through the springtime woods, even though in reality there is snow on the ground. Gar has told him something important, but Edgar cannot remember what it was. He decides he does not want to tell his mother about his dreams; instead, he intends to keep them as if they were memories stolen back from time. She can tell that Edgar has been having dreams of his father, but she does not push him to tell her about them.
Trudy instructs Edgar more fully on the art of training dogs. He learns that he must make it clear to the dog what he wants it to do even before he gives the first command. Trudy is tough on Edgar, but he knows that this is necessary if they are to make a living from the kennel without Gar. Doctor Papineau comes to dinner and sees how tired both Trudy and Edgar are. He states that the job requires three people and mentions that Claude is still in town, helping him at the vet’s office. Trudy refuses to consider Claude as well as any hired help. Doctor Papineau warns her that there is not a lot of slack should something happen. Trudy accuses him of being merely concerned about his “investment.” After Doctor Papineau leaves, Edgar learns that the vet has a ten-percent interest in the kennel, having given Gar a loan when it was needed. Edgar now understands why Doctor Papineau never charges for his visits to the Sawtelle kennel.
Almondine, in her own way, grieves for Gar. She follows his scent along the fence line and through the kennel, each place where Gar had walked. She knows that he is somehow gone and is not coming back. She had watched Gar’s casket lowered into the ground, but she has no concept that Gar is in that grave. She sits by his chair, and gradually throughout the spring, Gar’s scent begins to disappear. Trudy and Edgar are dealing with their own grief and do not think that Almondine is also mourning for Gar.
(The entire section is 393 words.)
Part 2, Chapters 5-6 Summary
Trudy begins to cough badly. She picks up Edgar at school and proceeds to Doctor Frost’s office. Doctor Frost tells her that she has pneumonia. It is on the verge of being serious enough that he thinks about sending her to the hospital. She promises to follow his instructions, which include complete bed rest for a week to ten days. Doctor Frost warns her that if Edgar gets pneumonia, it could get very serious because he is unable to adequately cough to clear his lungs. The two of them must be separated as much as possible. Trudy calls Edgar’s school to get him excused for the rest of the week.
Edgar still dreams about his father. One night he dreams that he could actually speak but did not on the day his father died. Edgar worries that it was a conscious choice, and he wakes up shaking. As Edgar takes care of the dogs, he becomes careless through exhaustion. Instead of putting the dog food into their bowls, Edgar throws it on the floor of their cages. One night, when he had fallen asleep in the barn, he throws enough food for all the dogs into the middle of the floor and lets the dogs out all at the same time. The dogs begin to fight over the food. Edgar knows not to put himself into the middle of a dog fight, but he accidentally falls into the middle of it. One of the dogs, Epi, attacks him by instinct, biting into his arm. When Almondine sees this, she tries to bite Epi and blind her. Trudy, having awakened in the night, comes out to the barn and sees Edgar bleeding, with Epi escaping into the night. Since the vet is out of town, Edgar urges her to call Claude for help. Trudy does so, and then sits at the table, feeling worse than before. She knows she needs to call Doctor Frost to tell him that the antibiotics are not working, fairly certain that he will put her in the hospital. She decides to wait another day.
Claude arrives to doctor the injured dogs. In high school, Claude had helped out at Doctor Papineau’s office, learning some vet skills. Twice he had purposely put to death dogs that he disliked, but stopped when the vet asked too many questions. More recently, while Gar was still alive, Claude went to dog fights and treated the wounds afterward.
Claude finds Epi behind the barn. He grabs her and tranquilizes her, putting some stitches into the cut on her face. He asks Edgar if there is another dog hurt, which there is—Finch.
(The entire section is 444 words.)
Part 2, Chapters 7-8 Summary
When Claude comes into the house, he sees how ill Trudy is. He rushes her to the doctor, despite the early hour. Doctor Frost gives her some stronger medication, and Trudy begins finally to improve. Claude comes each morning and stays all day, taking care of Trudy and the dogs. He does not stay for supper. Epi improves, but she is skittish. Edgar relives it all, exacerbating his guilt.
Trudy tells Edgar about her miscarriages before she gave birth to him. She does not compare that grief to losing Gar. She is grateful for the twenty years that she had with her husband and knows that if they lived to be a hundred, it would not be enough. She tries to get Edgar to talk to her, telling him again that Gar’s death was not his fault. She tells him that he is hitting himself in his sleep. She opens up his shirt and shows him the bruises on his chest. Edgar uses some twine to fix up a contraption that will hold his hands and keep him from hitting himself.
The spring weather brings heavy storms. The basement begins to flood, as it usually does. One night Edgar hears the dogs barking in the kennel. He looks out, but sees only rain. Abruptly, the dogs stop barking, which makes Edgar feel that, whatever they’re barking at, it is in the kennel with them. Edgar walks out to the kennel through the rain. One of the dogs, Essay, is standing inside a doorway. Edgar looks out through the rain. Suddenly, the raindrops coalesce into the figure of a man. Edgar is stunned. The figure speaks, telling him to release a dog. Edgar lets Essay loose. The figure signs commands to Essay, and the dog obeys them. Edgar finally has to admit that he is seeing the ghost of his father. The ghost tells him that he need not think that he could save him. The ghost tells him that he did not understand what he was seeing. He tells Edgar to look for something that “he” lost. Edgar looks everywhere until he finds a hypodermic syringe lying on the floor against the wall. The ghost tells Edgar that he has seen “him” use it before, and Edgar realizes that the ghost of his father is talking about Claude. The ghost tells Edgar that Claude proposed to Trudy, but Edgar says that his mother will reject him. The ghost tells him that eventually she will accept. Edgar says that he will tell the police and show them the syringe, which he now understands was used by Claude to kill Gar to get him out of his way. The ghost of Gar tells Edgar to find something, but all...
(The entire section is 498 words.)
Part 3, Chapters 1-2 Summary
Edgar awakens in the morning, finding himself still in the kennel. The smells overpower him, and he only gradually remembers the events of the night before. He steps outside and finds that the rain has stopped. He finds the syringe, shattered in a puddle. He takes the pieces and goes up the road to throw them into an old silo. He returns home, circling the house, not wanting to go in yet. He climbs up into a tree, where he watches the house. He can see the window over the kitchen sink, the curtains parted. He sees Almondine come into the kitchen, apparently all right from her fight with Epi. He sees his mother come out from the bedroom, with Claude coming soon behind her. Claude sits in Gar’s chair to drink his coffee. Edgar is afraid that he will see Claude and his mother kiss. Claude pets Almondine, and then rises to wash out his cup at the sink. He looks out the kitchen window and sees Edgar up in the tree. Claude realizes that Edgar is watching him, so he steps back. He wonders if this is a prank, but soon he wonders what else Edgar saw. He looks at Edgar and gives him an awkward smile.
Edgar climbs down the tree and goes into the barn, where his mother and Almondine had just entered. Trudy asks him questions about why he is soaking wet. Edgar thinks about telling her, but he decides not to. He begins the tasks of the day, and by midmorning he begins to wonder if the previous night’s events had really happened. At noon he goes up to the hay mow and goes to sleep. He dreams of seeing his father working down in the kennel. Smoke rises up through the ceiling beams. As Edgar goes down the stairs, his father keeps working, ignoring the smoke.
That night, Edgar watches as his mother and Claude fix dinner together like an old married couple. He asks Trudy if she believes that there is a heaven or hell. She replies that she does not believe in the Christian idea of an afterlife, but she believes that whatever people believe is all right for them. She reminds him that he needs to get the new litter named. He becomes unaccountably angry and tells her that he is tired to working in the kennel. He wants to go somewhere where there is not the everlasting cleaning and where they can be together, just the two of them. Trudy sees what he is getting at and tells him that Claude and Gar’s fighting was over old arguments. She wants Edgar to give Claude a chance. Edgar does not believe that his mother is thinking about Claude just...
(The entire section is 532 words.)
Part 3, Chapters 3-4 Summary
Edgar lies awake, thinking about what his father’s ghost had been trying to sign to him: H-A-A-something-I. Thinking more, he realizes that the third letter was most likely a C instead of an A. He still, however, does not understand what his father was trying to say. He goes downstairs where his mother apologizes for snapping at him the night before. He tells her that he cannot sleep. He is going out to the barn to think up some names for the puppies.
On a piece of paper, Edgar tries to guess what the missing letter is, like in the game of Hangman. He is reasonably sure that the fourth letter was an H, making the word HACHI. He thinks it might be part of a word that he remembers seeing someplace in his grandfather’s letters. He searches through the files until he finds a letter from Charles Adwin, who was a congressman and former ambassador to Japan. Adwin tells his grandfather that he has tracked down the people who own a dog named Hachiku. Adwin tried to get one of Hachiku’s puppies for Sawtelle, but the owners were unwilling to send a puppy overseas. In a second letter, Adwin tells Edgar’s grandfather that he has acquired a puppy of his own, one descended from Hachiku. He is willing to give Sawtelle one of the puppy's offspring when the time comes. Edgar is glad that he has solved the mystery of what his father wanted him to find, but he does not understand yet how it is connected to Claude.
Despite what Trudy has told Edgar, Claude does not move in with his things. He continues to come to work, but there are days that he misses. Edgar had observed a white spot in the grass in front of the barn door. Thinking it strange, he pokes at it with a spade. He picks some of the grass to smell. His mother, noticing him, asks what he is doing. Edgar asks her if the spot looks normal to her. She looks, and then leaves.
Edgar overhears Claude talking to Doctor Papineau. They are discussing a business deal that will be settled Saturday night at a fish boil. It will involve a loan from the vet, and Claude tells him that this will increase his investment to twenty percent. The only detail that Edgar picks up is that somebody will start with "twelve" for a pilot run. When it is time to leave for the fish boil on Saturday, Edgar refuses to go. Instead, he goes to the kennel and looks at old photographs. He sees a picture of Claude with a dog; the label on the photo says the dog is named Forte. This makes Edgar think...
(The entire section is 578 words.)
Part 3, Chapters 5-6 Summary
Trudy is going into town and asks Edgar if he would like to accompany her. He declines, and his mother, discouraged, says that someday he will be her son again. After Trudy has left, Claude approaches Edgar and asks him if he is able to drive the truck. Edgar says he cannot, and Claude thinks this is a shame. He wants to teach Edgar how to drive, but Trudy is more in favor of Edgar’s taking a Driver’s Education class. When Claude offers to give Edgar a driving lesson while Trudy is gone, Edgar agrees. As the two get into Claude’s Impala, Claude gives him some rudimentary lessons. Edgar sees this as an opportunity and floors the gas pedal. The car races off, reaching seventy-five miles an hour on the gravel road. Claude tries to get him to slow down but makes a mistake when he calls Edgar “son.” Edgar continues to drive erratically down the road with Claude trying to steer from the passenger’s side. Edgar signs to Claude, telling him that he does not want Claude calling him “son.” In fact, he does not want him in their house. Claude can read none of this and finally manages to put the car in neutral and turn off the engine. After the car slows to a stop, Edgar gets out and starts walking back to the house. Irate, Claude screams out that Edgar is just like his father.
On her way to town, Trudy wonders about the change in Edgar. She sees that he is going through some kind of rebellion, particularly in connection with Claude, but she cannot make out what is going on in his mind. She is not surprised, as she has never been able to do this, even when he was a child. In kindergarten, Edgar had put on his Christmas list that he wanted a pocket watch with a long chain. Gar and Trudy searched diligently for one and presented it to him on Christmas morning. Edgar carried it in his pocket but did not look at it for the time. One day Trudy caught him using the watch to try to hypnotize Almondine. Edgar became obsessed with hypnotism for several weeks.
At school, Edgar keeps running out of his classes. Trudy explains to the principal that he needs to let Edgar do so since it is the last couple of weeks of school anyway. Punishing Edgar at this stage would just make him more rebellious. She knows Edgar is bothered by Claude’s presence. Her relationship with Claude had not been planned; it happened one morning unexpectedly. Afterward, Trudy felt a sense of relief: now, she though, a new life could be started. She...
(The entire section is 475 words.)
Part 3, Chapters 7-8 Summary
Edgar bicycles into Popcorn Corners, carrying the picture of Claude and Forte in his pocket. He goes into Ida Paine’s grocery store, greets her, and then walks along the aisles. He asks Ida for a Coke. Ida talks to Edgar about his father. She says that she had seen Gar only a week before his death and knew at that time that it might be the last time she saw him. She describes it as a “juice” that flows from the person when she touches someone. She tells Edgar to show her what he brought her. He shows her the photograph of Claude and Edgar. Ida says that she has not seen Claude for a long time, though she remembers him, especially the dogfights. She hands back the photograph, crushing it in Edgar’s fist. She tells him to look for “that bottle.” If he cannot find it, he is to leave and not come back. Edgar does not understand, but he suddenly has a vision of a bottle shaped like an old inkwell with oily liquid inside; the bottle's label has foreign writing.
When Edgar returns home, he sees Claude working in the kennel, with Almondine lying beside him. Edgar sees this as a betrayal on Almondine’s part. When he leaves, she follows him out. He signs for her to stay, which she does for a moment, then follows him. He angrily picks her up by her ruff and shakes her, then signs again. He walks away, but returns and apologizes when he feels remorse. He goes into the house, commanding her again to stay.
Mr. Benson, a man from Texas, comes to pick up a couple of the Sawtelle dogs. Doctor Papineau is also present, as he usually tries to be when a dog is placed. Benson mentions a “branch contract,” and Edgar becomes suspicious, connecting this with the conversation he had overheard between Doctor Papineau and Claude. Benson wants to see the litter that Edgar is training, impressed with how well Edgar communicates with the dogs. Edgar improvises a little “performance” by the dogs. Handing one dog a syringe, he signals it to place the syringe against the hip of another dog, as if it is injecting it. The dogs repeat this several times, and Edgar watches the frozen expression on Claude’s face. When Edgar signals the dog to place the syringe against Claude’s leg, Claude panics and leaves. After Mr. Benson leaves, Trudy demands to know what the performance was all about. Determined to make his mother understand Claude’s involvement in Gar’s death, Edgar physically drags her into the barn to show her what had...
(The entire section is 530 words.)
Part 4, Chapters 1-2 Summary
Edgar walks deep into the woods with the three dogs: Essay, Tinder, and Baboo. Soaked by the rain and the dew, Edgar tries to dry off his clothes but is unsuccessful. He tries to find food for himself and the dogs, but there is nothing around. He has to stay off the road to avoid being seen. At one spot, he hears a car approach. Hiding in the bushes, he sees that it is Glen Papineau, who calls out for him. Glen drives off, and Edgar crosses the road and continues into the woods. The dogs find some turtle eggs to eat, and Edgar finds a few blueberries. The cabins he comes across are locked, but he knows that a woodsman would not leave any food inside to attract wild animals. On the third day, Edgar sees a cabin that looks occupied. The door is locked, and no one is inside. Edgar pries open the screen and enters. He takes several food items, including a can opener, and is about to leave when he spots a piece of paper on the table. It is a notice about Edgar, who is listed as a runaway. Edgar leaves the cabin and eats the food slowly, sharing it with the three dogs.
As the days progress, Edgar heads northward, always keeping to the woods. He becomes adept at taking food and supplies from cabins whose residents are not at home. During the Fourth of July holidays, the dogs howl at the noise of the fireworks. Edgar knows he should try to stop them to avoid detection, but he likes the sound after the lonesomeness of the woods. Edgar dreams of Almondine, thinking how much he misses her presence as well as the sound of voices.
At one cabin, Edgar spots a car by a cabin where he had seen car keys on the table. He contemplates taking the car but decides that car theft will only bring the police faster. As he continues to walk north, he comes to more meadows. At one point, he is spotted by two girls. The three dogs immediately bound toward them, encircling the girls so that they will not approach Edgar. As Edgar signs to them, the girls run off, awed by what they had seen. Edgar worries about the encounter. The police would be sure to believe the girls’ report and follow Edgar’s trail. He does not linger; he drives the dogs forward into the deep woods. He becomes homesick for the first time. They approach a tumbledown barn, surrounded by a field of sunflowers. After looking into the barn, Edgar leads the dogs into the sunflowers.
(The entire section is 442 words.)
Part 4, Chapters 3-4 Summary
As Edgar and the dogs cross the sunflower field, Edgar notices a water tower with the name “Lute” painted on it. He approaches an isolated farmhouse and finds that it is unlocked. Entering, he leisurely takes food, giving some of it to the dogs. He looks specifically for insect repellant to deal with the mosquitoes but finds none. When he is satiated, Edgar leaves and begins walking along the train tracks. Suddenly, Tinder yelps in pain. At first, Edgar thinks the dog has been bitten by a snake, but he discovers a jagged piece of glass in his paw. Cutting his own thumb, Edgar manages to hold Tinder down and extricate the piece of glass. Both his cut and the dog’s are sufficiently deep that Edgar thinks they might need stitches. Edgar picks up Tinder, leaving his fishing pole and backpack by the tracks, and returns to the farmhouse. A man with a morose expression on his face brings Edgar medicine for the dog and himself. Edgar carefully cleans Tinder’s cut, applying the medicine the man provided. He signs to the man that he is not deaf but he cannot speak. The man understands and seems sympathetic, thinking that the behavior of the dogs is far from ordinary. He introduces himself as Henry Lamb and tells Edgar he may sleep on the couch.
The next morning, Henry leaves for work early. He asks Edgar what his plans are, but Edgar has no idea. Henry asks him not to steal from him (which Edgar has already done) and to lock the door if he decides to leave. He says his first instinct is to call the police to report that he has found a missing child, but he tells Edgar that his first instincts are always bad. He warns him that he may change his mind, however. During the day, Edgar cleans himself up and tends to Tinder’s wounded paw. In the afternoon, he takes the dogs out to the field and hides, not sure yet what he wants to do concerning Henry. When Henry returns and finds Edgar gone, he sets up a table and chairs in the yard and begins to grill some bratwurst. As he had planned, Edgar is overpowered by the scent of food and joins Henry for dinner. He does not tell Henry his name when he asks, but he tells him the names of the dogs. That night, Edgar and the dogs sleep outside on the stoop. He wonders why he did not want to tell Henry his name.
(The entire section is 427 words.)
Part 4, Chapters 5-6 Summary
While Henry is at work, Edgar cleans out his shed. Filled with a variety old farm equipment and machinery, the shed gives Edgar a chance to make up for stealing from Henry before Tinder’s accident. Henry says he wants to put an old car that is now sitting on blocks in the yard into the shed where it belongs. Edgar divides the trash into burn, sell, and save piles. As Edgar cleans, he sees a figure in the shadows out of the corner of his eyes. Rushing out of the shed, he looks back but sees nothing. The figure reappears as he works but disappears if he looks straight at it. From a sideways glance, Edgar can make out an old farmer who begins to speak. He explains that the trash is due to his wife, who made him save everything. When she died, he was going to clean out the shed, but he could not bring himself to do it. Eventually, the figure disappears.
When Henry comes home, he looks at the piles of trash in the yard, then looks into the shed and remarks that it looks as though there is the same amount of trash as before. He makes Edgar stop for the day. Henry has brought dog food and medicine, for which Edgar thanks him. Henry explains that he used to be engaged to a woman named Belva, who eventually broke it off because she found Henry too “ordinary.” That night, Edgar relaxes enough to go to sleep. Edgar realizes that he is beginning to trust Henry, but he has to think about moving on north once Tinder’s paw heals.
Over the next several days, Edgar cleans out the shed. The old farmer reappears frequently, commenting on the significance of each piece of trash that Edgar hauls out. One evening Henry suggests to Edgar that they go for a ride, taking the dogs with them. Edgar reluctantly agrees, and Henry drives through town and around back home. He explains that he had intended to take Edgar to the sheriff’s office but decided against it. Edgar and Henry put wheels on the old car and roll it into the now empty shed. As Henry looks at the trash, he decides that he cannot part with it after all, and they move it back in. Henry and Edgar go for another ride, this time in the daylight. Stopped by a passing train, Henry looks at the car next to him and sees Belva, his ex-fiancée. Edgar hides down in the seat as Henry talks to her. Henry explains that the dogs belong to his nephew, but Belva points out that he is an only child. Henry then tells her that she misunderstood. He meant “Nathoo” (the name Edgar gave to...
(The entire section is 491 words.)
Part 4, Chapters 7-8 Summary
Glen Papineau is having difficulty adjusting to his father’s death. He is drinking more, even in public, which he knows is not a good idea for a sheriff to do. He boxed up his father’s office and tries to sell it, but there are no takers. He meets Claude Sawtelle in a bar, and the two begin talking about Doctor Papineau. Claude remembers “The Hot Mix Duck Massacre,” in which a flock of ducks mistook the newly paved main street for a stream. Many ducks were killed, but some were only injured. Doctor Papineau treated them, and the ducks followed him around while they healed.
Claude wants to buy some of Doctor Papineau’s medicines. Claude had previously worked with the vet in treating the Sawtelle dogs so that the doctor did not have to come out to the farm for small matters. Glen gives Claude the medicine. The conversation turns to Doctor Papineau’s death. Glen’s official position is that his father fell down the stairs and Edgar, not being able to handle two deaths in the same spot, ran away. Claude casts doubt on this scenario, telling Glen that Edgar had become “wild” since Gar’s death. He also tells Glen that he heard “secondhand” that Doctor Papineau fell because Edgar ran at him with a perceived intention to attack. Glen is shocked to hear this, stating that this would be considered manslaughter. Claude says that Glen has the right to sue the Sawtelles since the death to place on their property, but this is something that Glen has no intention of doing. He ponders Claude’s account of Doctor Papineau’s death, however, and sees Edgar in a new light.
Edgar, after seeing the patrol car, knows that it is time for him to leave. Henry offers to drive him to the Canadian border. Edgar, knowing this will save him weeks of travel, agrees. As Henry, Edgar, and the dogs arrive at Lake Superior, they see three waterspouts out on the lake. When they move toward the shore, Henry points out some recesses washed out in the rocky ledge. One recess not big enough for all of them, they split up. Tinder automatically goes with Henry, while Edgar protects Baboo and Essay in the small cave. As the waterspouts move toward land, Essay escapes and stands on the shore, barking. Eventually, the storms retreat. Edgar thinks of Ida Paine’s words, warning him that, “It’s just wind.” He decides to head back. Henry drives him to the first cabin where he had found food. As he leaves, he decides to leave Tinder with...
(The entire section is 453 words.)
Part 4, Chapters 9-10 Summary
Edgar and Essay stay near the spot where they had spent the Fourth of July. Edgar catches fish to keep them supplied with food, though he eventually gets very tired of it. Every night for three nights, Edgar and the dog change their camp location, moving into the low hills around the lake. Autumn is approaching, and the days are getting shorter. One evening, four nights after leaving Henry, while they were sitting by the fire, Edgar sees a pair of eyes reflecting the flames. As the figure steps out, he realizes that it is Forte, the stray dog he had seen so long ago at home. Forte does not come near the fire, but he eats the fish that Edgar leaves for him. Essay joins Forte out hunting in the woods, often rejecting the food that Edgar gives her.
As Edgar takes off, Forte follows him. The two dogs often run off into the woods, and Edgar keeps walking, trusting them to find him. He notices that Essay is beginning to hunt her own food. He begins to think of Almondine, about how she was a mirror of himself since his birth. By his wandering through the woods, Edgar feels that he has squandered much of the time he has left with the dog, who is rapidly getting older. He realizes that he has to go back home. Finding the Starchild Colony will not complete him as he had once thought it would. Eventually, Edgar and Essay return to the Sawtelle farm.
Almondine sits and misses Edgar. She sleeps as much as she can. If she is not asleep, she lies and waits for sleep to return. In her dreams, Edgar is still there, never having left. But when she awakens, she misses him all over again. She has lived for him since he was a baby in his mother’s arms. She knows that time lives inside you. She sleeps in his bed. If he returns, she will be the first to know. Edgar’s mother continues to train the puppies, and Almondine watches them, feeling that Edgar is sitting next to her. One morning, Almondine awakens and feels that, if Edgar is traveling, she should travel too. She goes through the unlatched door. From far away, she hears a traveler (a car) coming up the road. As the car passes, she silently asks if it has seen her boy. If the car understands, it does not answer.
(The entire section is 410 words.)
Part 5, Chapters 1-2 Summary
Edgar and Essay sit at the edge of the field and watch the house. They see no movement, so Edgar walks up to the barn where the dogs explode in excitement. After feeding Essay, Edgar goes into the house, which is empty. He wonders where Almondine is, since she did not come out to greet him. He wanders through the house, then returns to the kitchen and eats. He leaves a note stating that he was there and will return in the morning. He leaves the note, as well as the photo of Claude and Forte, on the kitchen table, and goes back to the barn. Grabbing some burlap bags, he heads to the woods with Essay, fixing a spot for the night where he can watch the house.
Wandering over to the family cemetery, Edgar sees the graves of the stillborn and his father. There is a fresh one next to them, and Edgar realizes that the grave is Almondine’s. He is numb with shock, thinking of how protective she was of him when he was a boy. He returns to his camping spot and watches the house. The truck returns, and he sees Claude and his mother get groceries out of the back and enter the house. He waits, but there is no movement. He decides he will wait until morning to go to the house. He realizes that it was Claude who found the note. If it had been his mother, she would have come rushing out, looking for him. He sees Claude come out of the house and walk along the driveway. After a few minutes, Claude goes back inside.
Trudy lies in bed, unable to sleep for thinking about the curiously excited way the dogs behaved when she and Claude drove up. Claude gets up, claiming that he is going to check on the puppies. She says that she will go with him, but he tells her to stay in bed. The real reason she wanted to go is so that she could stand by the silo, as she has every night, and signal to Edgar that it is safe to come home. She thinks about her life since Gar’s death, how she reluctantly began her relationship with Claude just so that she could know that her life is going on. She worries how Edgar, should he ever come home, will react to Almondine’s death. She plans to ask Glen if he has heard any news about Edgar, but she is anxious about not connecting Edgar too closely to Doctor Papineau’s death.
(The entire section is 431 words.)
Part 5, Chapters 3-4 Summary
Edgar sits beside Almondine’s grave and looks at the house. He remembers when Claude first came to stay with them and told Edgar how he and Gar used to hide cigarettes and alcohol under a floorboard. Edgar had found the floorboard but saw nothing under it except a bottle cap. Then he remembers Ida Paine telling him to “look for the bottle.” He thinks about the shape of the bottle he had visualized in Ida’s hand. In the dark, he goes back to the barn. He hears a dull buzz coming from the telephone. It is only people on the party line. He forces himself to go past the spot where Doctor Papineau had lain. He finds the floorboard where he had found the bottle cap, but it is nailed down. He pries it open with the knife Henry gave him. The space below has been enlarged recently, but there is nothing in there. There could be a hundred different hiding places in the barn, but he could not look for them all. He hears the dogs barking and looks down to find Essay. She is climbing in with the other dogs. In the medicine room, Edgar gets some water in a coffee can. He goes back to the haymow and settles downs to sleep.
Over the months, Glen has become good friends with Claude; he never would have expected this. His hints about Edgar’s involvement in Doctor Papineau’s death are working their way into Glen’s mind. He wonders if the boy is nearby after all, especially after the phone call from a police officer. He wonders what he would say to Edgar if he picked him up. He thinks about his nickname from high school—Ox. It implies stupidity, about which Glen is sensitive. He thinks about the laughter at the station when he mentioned that Trudy interpreted Edgar’s signs when Glen questioned him. He would like to talk to Edgar again and imagines him speaking out loud, saying he is sorry. This will imply remorse, but it will also imply involvement, which is something Glen is thinking about since his conversation with Claude.
Claude comes to Glen’s house to tell him about Edgar’s note on the kitchen table. He is vague about what he told Trudy about the note. He tells Glen about Prestone, which is almost pure ether. He and Glen devise a plan to use the Prestone to knock Edgar out and take him away before Trudy can interfere. Glen drives out to the Sawtelle place late one night, ready to take action.
(The entire section is 435 words.)
Part 5, Chapters 5-6 Summary
Edgar has hidden himself high atop the stack of hay bales in the mow. He listens to the actions below in the kennel, where his mother is working with the pups. He hears the sound of the back door as Claude goes inside the house. He freezes when he hears footsteps climbing the stairs but relaxes when they retreat down below. He takes a drink of water from the coffee can then urinates in the corner. When he cannot take the heat anymore, he climbs down the straw and takes a breath of the cooler air. He worries that Claude has heard him. He decides he will wait until sunset for any further action.
Back on top of the bales, Edgar hears Claude enter the vestibule door of the kennel. Claude calls out twice to him, but Edgar stays silent. He feels the bales being removed one by one. Edgar peeks over the edge and sees that Claude is clearing a space from the stack to expose one section of the floor. Claude pries up a floorboard, reaches in, and takes out a bottle with an old-fashioned shape, a glass stopper, and a label with black markings—just as he had seen in his vision at Ida Paine’s store. Claude covers the bottle with loose straw, and then replaces the bales. After Claude leaves, Edgar examines the hole where Claude had retrieved the bottle. The bottle itself is not where Claude had left it. Edgar hears Claude move the truck alongside the barn.
Edgar confronts his mother as she is working with the pups; he warns her to be quiet. She asks him why he did not come back the day following Doctor Papineau’s death when she signaled him, and he says that people were looking for him. Trudy told people that the vet’s death was an accident, so there was nothing to fear. Edgar asks his mother if she found his note on the table. When she does not know anything about the note, Edgar tells her that Claude found it first and did not tell her. Trudy thinks about all this implies. Edgar tells her that Claude is hiding something in the barn that must be found. He asks her if she has seen “him” in the rain; he is talking about Gar but she is confused as to his meaning. Edgar promises to come back for good after he has taken care of things with Claude. He tells her that he put Essay in with the pups, but she says that Claude would have told her if he had seen Essay. Edgar says that Claude is hoping he will go away again. Edgar takes off through the fields toward his hiding spot.
(The entire section is 458 words.)
Part 5, Chapters 7-8 Summary
Edgar cools off in the creek and then finds the old dying oak tree where he once saw Forte. He hopes the dog will return there, and he is fairly sure that Claude does not know anything about the tree, never having walked the fence as Gar and Edgar had done. The image of Doctor Papineau dying keeps coming into his mind. He knows it is fruitless to wish it had never happened, but he wishes he could talk to Glen. He believes he will not be able to stay until he does so, though he is not quite sure what sentiment he should express to the son of the man he killed. He thinks how closely he came to going back to the house with his mother; he wanted to tell her about his time on the run, about Henry Lamb and the dogs, about the old man in Henry’s shed. Edgar is also overwhelmed with loneliness, brought on even stronger with the knowledge of Almondine’s death. His relationship with Almondine makes him understand the letters between his grandfather and the dog trainer Brooks even better. He fades off to sleep but awakens when Essay comes rushing up to him. The dog is wearing a collar around which is wound gray duct tape. Edgar peels off the tape and discovers the photograph of Claude and Forte that he had left on the table with his note, three hundred and thirty dollars, and the key to the Impala.
Claude calls Glen at his office to find out what happened the night before. Glen explains that he drove around and waited but saw nothing. Claude says that he has a hunch that Edgar is planning on taking the Impala and leaving because he discovered the spare key is missing. To Glen, this makes the situation easier if he can just stop the car without knocking Edgar out with the ether. Glen promises to try again that night. Claude tells him that he will put the porch light on if Edgar is already in the house.
Glen takes the bottle of either and a bottle of whiskey to his police cruiser, then he drives out to the Sawtelle house. He sees both the truck and the Impala parked, so he stops and waits. He thinks that, if must sedate Edgar, he can probably carry him quite a way to the cruiser. By the time Edgar wakes up, they will be far down the road and Glen will question him about Doctor Papineau’s death. Glen sees a figure crossing the road. There is a dog accompanying the figure, and Glen knows it is Edgar. He plans to wait five minutes for the porch light to come on before heading after Edgar.
(The entire section is 461 words.)
Part 5, Chapters 9-10 Summary
Edgar slips into the barn and puts Essay into the pen with her littermates. He begins searching for the bottle Claude had hidden. Because Claude was handling it so carefully, Edgar reasons that he would not keep it in the house; he also did not seem to want to throw it away after all this time. Edgar looks in the medicine cabinet but finds nothing.
Suddenly he feels a hand holding a cloth over his mouth. He smells an odor and recognizes it as Prestone, which is almost pure ether. He hears Glen’s voice telling him to wait. Edgar tries holding his breath but, as Glen points out, this will only make him breathe deeper. As Edgar slips into semiconsciousness, Glen carries him to the barn door. When Glen sets him down to open the door, Edgar reaches out and finds the can of quicklime. When Glen picks him up again, Edgar dumps the quicklime over Glen’s head. With his eyes burning, Glen sets Edgar down and begs him to get some water to wash the lime away. Edgar staggers to the door and out into the fresh air, which begins to clear away the fumes of the ether from the broken bottle Glen dropped. Glen comes out to lean against the tractor, screaming for someone to help him. Trudy hears him from the house and rushes out.
Trudy lies awake, listening for Edgar’s steps to come onto the porch. She does not understand what he is looking for in the barn. She sits up in bed when she hears a man’s voice and the dogs barking. Claude tells her to stay in bed while he checks. She notices that his face looks more alarmed than puzzled. She recognizes the voice as Glen’s, and Claude says that he is probably drunk again. Trudy runs out to the porch to see Glen kneeling against the tractor. She also sees Edgar by the barn. Claude just stands on the porch as Trudy runs out. She is not sure whether to go to Edgar or just get Claude and Glen back to the house. Trudy demands to know what Glen is doing there. Writhing with the pain of his burning eyes, Glen tells her that he just wanted to ask Edgar a question and pleads with Claude to validate this. Claude says he is drunk, and Trudy calls Claude a liar. She smacks Glen in the face and tells him she’s not doing anything until she knows her son is safe.
As Trudy moves to the barn, there is an explosion and barn begins to burn. She tells Claude to call the fire department and accuses Glen of setting their barn on fire as she rushes to the barn. She finds Edgar letting all the dogs...
(The entire section is 487 words.)
Part 5, Chapters 11-12 Summary
Edgar frantically releases the dogs from the pens. Most rush out into the yard past the silo, but Essay stays beside him. When he runs his hand over her back, he can feel patches of singed fur. He signals her to go to the others and then returns to the barn. He meets his mother, who asks him if the pups are out. They are not, so he runs back into the barn, putting out small fires as he goes. He releases the pups and follows them out. He asks his mother if she called the fire department, but the phone lines (which were wired through the barn) have burned.
Suddenly Edgar remembers his father lying on the ground, which triggers the memory of the files that are the sole record of the Sawtelle breed. Trudy asks why Glen would want to burn the barn. Edgar explains that Glen had ether, which he used to knock Edgar out. Trudy then understands that the ether that started the fire, and she notices for the first time that Glen is not in uniform. She wonders how he knew Edgar was back; he was evidently suspicious of Edgar’s part in Doctor Papineau’s death. She confronts Glen, who sits rocking back and forth with his eyes burning. Edgar goes back into the barn and rescues all the files. Essay tries to follow him but he signals her away. He goes back into the barn and enters the milk house.
Claude sits on the porch, determined to let the barn burn. At the worst, it will cause an inconvenience, but it will be rebuilt by winter. He wonders why Glen used enough Prestone to start a fire. The only disaster that Claude sees is Edgar running back and forth into the milk house to rescue the files. Glen continues to pin Trudy on the ground. Claude thinks that eventually he will have to get Glen off of her. More than anything, he worries that Edgar will find the bottle of poison. He had worried that Edgar would find it in the haymow, so he took it out. However, he could not think of a safe hiding place. Claude eventually hid it behind the files in the bottom drawer of the file cabinet. Now that Edgar is digging through the cabinet, Claude knows he will eventually find it. Claude decides he does not need to worry about Glen. If Glen ever were to talk about their plan, Claude could point out how much Glen had been drinking lately. Claude goes into the barn and finds Edgar at the file cabinet, frantically piling files in the wheelbarrow. He goes to the last cabinet and begins throwing files into the wheelbarrow.
(The entire section is 455 words.)
Part 5, Chapters 13-14 Summary
Edgar is frustrated with himself that he did not think of using a wheelbarrow before. The smoke is getting thicker, so he must drop to the floor to get a breath of fresh air. He rises and continues shoveling files into the wheelbarrow. He glances up when Claude enters but keeps on removing files. Claude’s expression is blank. Edgar cannot forget what he saw in the mow. He did not return with a plan in mind just to reveal the truth about Claude’s implication in Gar’s death.
Claude continues to unload the last file cabinet, causing the wheelbarrow to quickly become overloaded. Edgar wheels it out and dumps the files before returning to the milk house. Trudy calls out to him to let it go, but he cannot. He cannot see any fire but the smoke is becoming overpowering. As he re-enters the workshop, he knows Claude is not really there to help him, but he figures that every file Claude rescues is one more record saved. He can no longer split himself between the choices of whether to fight or turn away. Edgar sees that there are two more cabinets, including the letters from Congressman Brooks, that need to be rescued. He believes that he can finish within five minutes. If not, he has an idea that might clear out some of the smoke to give them more time.
When Edgar leaves the workshop, Claude retrieves the bottle from the drawer. He had placed a syringe with it and wrapped them both in a rag. He carefully loosens the stopper and unwraps the syringe. He is moving so quickly that he jabs his hand with the needle. He inserts the syringe into the bottle, and the poison creeps up into the barrel. He shoots all but a fraction back into the bottle. Claude leaves the bottle uncorked, then he waits. Claude plans to leave the barn if things begin to feel unsafe and Edgar does not come back. He smells roasting meat in the smoke and realizes there must have been mice or birds in the barn.
Edgar reappears and begins unloading the oldest cabinet. Claude remembers when he got the poison in South Korea and recalls that the old man had used a reed. Claude’s hand begins to tremble, but he inserts the syringe into Edgar without his even noticing. All Claude needs to do is sit back and wait. Abruptly, Edgar stops unloading files and looks around. He finds a pitchfork and jabs it up into the smoke overhead.
(The entire section is 426 words.)
Part 5, Chapters 15-16 Summary
Edgar feels something on his neck, as if something has fallen on him. He reaches up to feel but finds nothing. He feels an icy wave radiate down through his back and limbs. He turns and sees Claude sitting at the base of the door, looking frightened and panting through his mouth. Edgar notices that the smoke suddenly triples. He knows he is being overcome, and he looks for some kind of implement. He finds a pitchfork and jabs it up at the ceiling. It strikes only wood. He moves a little and tries again, and he is rewarded with a feeling of movement. He slides the hatch to the side. Smoke eddies through the hatch, just as he knew it would. He still does not see any flames.
As he lies on the floor, Edgar thinks of Glen. He imagines apologizing to him. He begins to feel barriers recede inside him, and he sees Almondine crawl from some hidden place behind the cabinets. He hears her speaking, just as he used to imagine her voice when he was a child. He tells her that he thought he would never see her again. Almondine repeatedly tells Edgar that he was lost. She explains that he did not need to come back. She would have found him some way. Edgar tells her that he finally understood what his grandfather was doing with the dogs. He tries to tell her about Henry, but she tells him to get up and come outside. He apologizes to her for turning away when he saw her with Claude. Edgar sees another figure appear out of the fog. He has a chance to tell him what he wanted to say that day in the rain. He says out loud, “I love you.”
Claude sits back against the door and waits. For a moment, he worries that the poison might not be working. As Edgar lies on the floor, however, he begins to see its effects. He thinks back to the reaction of the dog in the shop where he bought the poison and realizes that the reactions might be different. He debates whether he should drag Edgar’s body out. If he does, at least he would be better for Trudy. He tries to rise but his knees are jittery. He hears a sound from above and realizes that the barn is beginning to collapse. Claude leaves Edgar’s body and goes out into the kennel. In the smoke filling the aisle, he sees a figure. At first he thinks it is Glen, but then he hears Glen’s cries from outside. Suddenly he recognizes it is Gar. Timbers begin to collapse, and Claude becomes confused. He keeps walking until he finds the wire mesh that he knew was there.
(The entire section is 464 words.)
Part 5, Chapters 17-18 Summary
Trudy waits for either Claude or Edgar to emerge from the barn. She calls until her throat is raw as she thrashes against Glen’s hold. She begins to think that it is not Glen who is holding her to the ground but rather a black vine growing out of the ground, enveloping her and everything around her. She is unable to look away from the horror that is before her. After a long while, she imagines the black vine retreating. She watches the tiny flames along the shingled roof of the barn grow into a massive fire, sending off a pillar of smoke. She hears a low, prolonged groan and realizes that it is the central roof beam beginning to sag. Where before there had been nothing but smoke, now there is nothing but flame. As the heat reaches them, Glen relaxes his grip and stands up. He slaps his face and chest, screaming, thinking that he has caught fire. Trudy does not move or answer. She keeps her gaze on the barn door. Glen stumbles across the yard, fearful of what is happening around him that he cannot see.
The Sawtelle dogs, all having escaped from the barn, sit in a circle and watch the fire. They see embers settle on the scattered papers Edgar had rescued from the workroom and watch them burn into ashes. The flames reach the old orchard trees and set them on fire. They see the birches and the white crosses on the graves glow. The fiberglass top of the truck begins to melt. Eventually the whole truck collapses in the flames. They see a thundercloud in the distance, but it will not reach the place in time to put out the fire.
The dogs see Trudy sprawling on the grass with Glen standing over her. She seems unaware of the fire around her. As the flames grow stronger, the dogs move pass the house to the garden. Essay runs down into the fields, followed by a few of the others. When she reaches the rock pile, the dogs gather around her. She goes back to the garden and rounds up the rest of the dogs. When all of the Sawtelle dogs are with her, she leads them through the fence and into the forest. Forte, the stray dog, is nearby, pacing the tree line. Essay looks between Forte and the village; she seems to be deciding which one to choose. Eventually she leads the dogs to Forte and they cross into the forest.
(The entire section is 421 words.)
The Story of Edgar Sawtelle (Magill's Literary Annual 2009)
Few first novels receive the kind of attention afforded David Wroblewski’s The Story of Edgar Sawtelle. The forty-nine-year-old writer’s initial effort won glowing reviews, reached the top of The New York Times best-seller list, and was chosen by Oprah’s Book Club, a guarantee of good word of mouth and brisk sales. A coming-of-age story, a dog tale, and a nostalgic look at America’s recent past, the book is also highly literary.
After opening with a prologue set in South Korea during 1952, an episode that seems to have little relation to the rest of the novel until midway through, The Story of Edgar Sawtelle traces the evolution of the Sawtelle family’s dog-breeding enterprise. After John Sawtelle fails as a dairy farmer near Mellen, Wisconsin, in the 1920’s, he discovers he likes having the seven puppies of his dog, Violet, around, and he has a vision of breeding perfect dogs by following the theories of geneticist Gregor Mendel: “dogs so unlike the shepherds and hounds and retrievers and sled dogs he used as foundation stock they became known simply as Sawtelle dogs.”
Much of The Story of Edgar Sawtelle examines the disappointments of family life experienced by John’s son Gar, his wife Trudy, and their mute son Edgar during the early 1970’s. A foster child, Trudy has a strong need for family ties, and she is crushed by a miscarriage before Edgar is born in 1958. His muteness is a small...
(The entire section is 1874 words.)