The Story of Edgar Sawtelle

by David Wroblewski

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Literary Criticism and Significance

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Wroblewski’s The Story of Edgar Sawtelle (2008) received public acclaim, as well as the honor of being placed on the reading list of the Oprah Winfrey’s Book Club. This popular novel was the Wroblewski’s first, and it remained on the New York Times bestseller list for several months. Literary critics, however, gave the book mixed reviews.

The novel was called a “literary thriller with commercial legs” by an anonymous reviewer for Publishers Weekly, which fairly well sums up what most critics thought of it. The book was written in a literary style (loosely based on Shakespeare’s Hamlet), had the story momentum to keep readers turning the pages, and would appeal to a wide audience.Thus is was deemed a potential money-maker for the publisher. Ian Chipman, writing for Booklist, stressed Wroblewski’s literary talent.Chipman found that the author’s prose was “assured” and the novel contained “broad swatches of carefully rendered imagery.” Christopher Hawtree also praised Wroblewski’s novel. Writing a review for the New Yorker, Hawtree stated that the author had created a “coherent, captivating fictional world,” with this novel.

But not all reviewers were so impressed. Some found fault with the abrupt ending that did not completely answer readers’ curiosity about several characters and did not tie up many loose ends in the plot line.Critics who found fault with Wroblewski’s novel included Algis Valiunas, writing for Commentary. Valiunas stated that since a major part of The Story of Edgar Sawtelle dealt with dogs, one needed to compare it with another literary writer who focused some of his novels on canines, Jack London, who wrote The Call of the Wild (1903) and White Fang (1906). In this comparison, Valiunas found nothing in Wroblewski’s work that equaled the eloquent power” of London’s prose.

Mike Peed, writing for New York Times Book Review, also found weak points in Wroblewski’s novel. He stated that the book was “a sprawling, uneven work, at times brilliant but elsewhere sentimental and tedious.” Though Peed praised Wroblewski for his skill in meticulously presenting details that bring the landscape of the novel alive, this critic also found that this attention to detail often got in the way of the author being able to truly expose the inner, emotional life of the novel’s characters. “This concern with the exterior frequently eclipses his [Wroblewski’s] attention to the interior” world, Peed wrote. 

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