Friday, March 20, 2009

Edgar Sawtelle

A Novel by David Wroblewski
by Charlie Leck

Never judge a book by its cover!

If I were to judge a book by its cover, I might call The Story of Edgar Sawtelle an absolute winner even before I cracked the spine. I’m a big fan of beautiful dust jackets. I wonder if they give out awards for dust jacket design. If they don’t, they should!

Allison Saltzman did the design of the cover of the Wroblewski smash hit, bestselling novel. Debra Lill did the artwork. I loved the artwork when I first looked at it in the bookstore, where I bought my copy of the novel, and I appreciated it even more when I put the book down, after reading it; because I held it in my hands and looked at Edgar and Almondine strolling through the field on his farm, walking back toward the big, spectacular barn, and the story just burned into me again.

Someone in the little bookstore in Wayzata pushed the book across the counter to me. I looked down at it and was taken by the melancholy scene of peacefulness and companionship. The colors were soft, but spectacular.

“It the best novel of the year,” the cute, little clerk said, “and maybe the best novel of the last several years. New York Times best seller list for weeks and weeks now. It’s the best novel I’ve read in a long time. You don’t want to miss this one.”

There was an Oprah’s Book Club sticker on the front of the dust jacket. Too bad! It was marring the wonderful art work. I bought the book in spite of it being an Oprah selection. I liked the weight of it – a big, thorough story and I liked holding it in my hands, so I could glance down at it from time to time.

“No bag,” I said. “I’ll just tote it along like this.”

The story opens with a brief, mysterious and intriguing prologue. I forgot the little 5 page story within moments after getting into the heart of the main story. It was only when I was two-thirds of the way through the entire book that my wife reminded me of the prologue.

“Lord, yes,” I nearly shouted. “Yes. That’s it! I’d forgotten about it.”

I rushed back to reread the little fore-story again, and I began to understand everything about Edgar Sawtelle, and his father Gar, and his uncle Claude – everything! Enough said!

This is not just a good, long story. If you’ve read it, you know that. If you haven’t, I want to prepare you. This is, as Stephen King writes on the back of the dust jacket, “…a novel about the human heart, and the mysteries that live there, understood but impossible to articulate. Wonderful mysterious, long and satisfying: readers who pick up this novel are going to enter a richer world. I envy them the trip.”

There you go! It’s all about the dust jacket again. Don’t judge a book by its cover – except, maybe, in this case. Richard Russo, my favorite contemporary novelist, says, again on the dust jacket: “David Wroblewski’s got storytelling talent to burn and a big, generous heart to go with it.”

If you haven’t read the book yet, do! As I said to one person, “Don’t walk – run to the bookstore and get a copy of this wonderful book and settle in for hours and hours of extraordinary fascination.”

“Now Almondine occupied his thoughts. He hadn’t seen her for two months or more and suddenly it felt like he’d been severed from some fundament of his being. At the end of the next day or the day after that, they would be joined again. Perhaps she would have forgotten his crimes, for which he wanted more than anything to atone. Everything that had happened to him since he’d left made him think of her. Others dreamed of finding a person in the world whose soul was made in their mirror image, but she and Edgar had been conceived nearly together, grown up together, and however strange it might be, she was his other. Much could be endured for that. He knew also that she was old, and he had squandered some portion of their time circling in the woods, blind, confused, stopping and starting with only vague notions of what to do. Without the strangest kind of intercession he might never have seen her again. Perhaps only when he’d become an old man would he realize how reduced he’d been by that decision, how withered he’d become, away from her.“He’d left in confusion, but his return was clarifying. So much of what had been obscure while he faced away was now evident.”
David Wroblewski writes very clearly. It is easy to ramble along with him and his words flow comfortably. Though he is not, I don’t expect, a great writer of the sort Updike was, or even Russo, I think he is a better storyteller than both. He reminds me of Mark Helprin in that regard.

That’s all. I’ll tell you no more because I don’t want to ruin your journey through this spectacular story.

I only want to guess for you that I found the paragraph that must have lay open when Debra Lill created the image that makes up the dust jacket.

“They walked up through the mantle of tree shadow stretching across the western field. Ahead, the red siding of the barn glowed phosphorescent in the mulled sunset. A pair of does sprang over the fence on the north side of the field – two leaps each, nonchalant, long-sustained, falling earthward only as an afterthought – and crashed through the hazel and sumac. The air was still hot and the hay rasped dryly at Edgar’s legs. Stalks of wild corn dotted the field, leaves frayed and bitten to the cane, and the Indian tobacco was brown and wilted from the heat. All of it brittle and rattling as if folded from sheets of cigarette paper.”
Happy reading! You’re going to fall in love with Edgar Sawtelle.

No comments:

Post a Comment