13 July 2009

The Story of Edgar Sawtelle

by David Wroblewski

I started this book last Wednesday night, and ever since then, I’ve been telling everyone I can think of – even casual acquaintances – to read it immediately. I finished it yesterday, and already I’m seriously thinking about starting over. I don’t know how to describe it, really, because it doesn’t fit neatly into one specific genre. It’s kind of a “boy and his dog” coming-of-age story, but also part adventure, part mystery, part ghost story.

The title character, Edgar, is a young boy whose family lives on a farm in Wisconsin during the mid-1950s. They breed Sawtelle Dogs, so named because they were rather much invented by Edgar’s grandfather to be perfect companion dogs. Instead of breeding for purity of bloodline, the Sawtelles breed for intelligence, and for some “je ne sais quoi” quality that will make the dogs choice makers, able to understand and respond to training and commands, but also develop a form of free will. Sort of. It’s hard to describe, really. The important part is that the dogs are a huge part of this book. The narrator is third-person omniscient, and usually he (she?) describes the action from Edgar’s point of view. But there are a few chapters that speak from a dog’s perspective, and they are some of the best parts of the book.

Interestingly, just like the dogs he cares for, Edgar is mute; he can hear, but he can’t speak. Very clever, also, then, that Edgar's surname is Sawtelle. Saw. Tell. Get it? ;-)

The plot has been billed as “Hamlet”…with dogs. I’m not sure about that. “Hamlet” was never my favorite Shakespeare tragedy (“Othello” is, in case you’re wondering). Actually, I never liked “Hamlet” much at all, so I tried to pay as little attention to it as possible while still making an A in my Shakespeare class in college. Still, though, perhaps you can rest assured, knowing that there is no moment where Edgar cradles a skull…human or canine.

I will not do you the disservice of telling you the tragic plot turn that happens about a third of the way through the book. Unfortunately, the writers of the book flap are not as kind as I, so if you don’t want to have your reading ruined, throw the flap into the garbage as soon as you buy it. I was disgusted at having read it, actually, because I’m convinced that I would have somehow enjoyed the book even more if I hadn’t known what was coming.

Honestly, I usually hate books that wander too heavily into detail or description. I had to stop reading “Les Miserables” for a while, and then skip 100 pages or so, because I was so tired of hearing about what Victor Hugo thought about the guillotine or the Battle of Waterloo. But, Wroblewski’s best writing shows itself in his descriptions of the dogs’ training, or the family farm, or the town itself and the people who inhabit it. He paints a childhood that is undoubtedly ideal and idyllic (at least in the beginning…not so much at the end), but I can’t even tell you how much I loved reading about it.

07 July 2009

Love Stories in This Town

By Amanda Eyre Ward

I don’t normally like short stories, so I will admit to being a little disappointed when, after buying this book, I realized that it was, alas, a book of short stories. I shouldn’t have been. I read the whole thing in one sitting.

Faithful (or even semi-faithful) readers of my blog know my love for Amanda Eyre Ward. If possible, I think I love her more now. My problem with short stories is that just about the time I get to know the character and care what happens to him/her (in Eyre Ward, it’s almost always “her,” by the way), the story is over and I’m left wanting more. This author, though, is very good with endings that are both satisfying in the sense that they don’t feel forced or contrived, and open enough to allow me some leeway in figuring out just how these women spend the rest of their lives.

As you may anticipate, the stories center around the central characters’ love lives, but not in a stereotypical sense. The little towns and big cities where the women live and work, or where they’ve moved or traveled to, are more than backdrops; they influence the mood and the movement of the plot. For instance, the title comes from a quote at the end of one of the stories. A bartender says, “There are no love stories in this town.” In the reader’s guide at the end of the book, Eyre Ward admits that when she wrote that line, she was a sad graduate student, and it was the first of several stories she would eventually write about “Lola.” Initially, it was a statement about how the character had somehow resigned herself to a loveless life, because of where she lived. As the author wrote more stories about her, though, she realized that the actual commentary was that Lola would eventually leave that town, which she does, and find a better life elsewhere.

Needless to say, I enjoyed this book. Inhaled it, practically. I can’t wait for her next one.

06 July 2009

I love my family...

...they're great for entertainment. In fact, I could base the plotline of an entire sitcom on my Aunt Enone. So, because my family will celebrate her 80th birthday on Sunday, and because I sadly will not be there, I offer the following story as an example of why I miss her as much as I do:

My mama called me a few days back to tell me that Aunt Enone had been having some trouble with her eyes and that I should call and talk to her when I had a few minutes. Obediently, I called the next day to check on her, and she filled me in on the whole story. She had gone to her weekly beauty shop appointment, just as she has every single week ever since I can remember. This trip was notable, though, because when she put her eyeglasses back on as she was getting reay to leave, she noticed hat suddenly, she couldn't see. She called my aunt to come take her home, since obviously, she couldn't drive.

I asked if her vision had improved any, and she said that she thought it had. Well, that was a relief. Here I am, thousands of miles away, thinking that she's had a stroke, or that she's got an aneurysm or something. I was really worried!

Apparently, so was everyone else because everyone said a special prayer at church on Sunday morning that God would heal her eyes. As my Uncle Bob would say, God still answers prayer! And we know this because after church, one of Aunt Enone's friends, who had coincidentally been at the beauty shop at the very same time as Aunt Enone, came to visit her. Also coincidentally, she had been experiencing some vision problems of her own. After hearing the specialprayer request at church, it occurred to her what both their problems might be.

Lo and behold, they swapped glasses and had been wandering around for three days wearing the wrong ones, both of them too blind to realize that they had taken the wrong glasses from the beauty shop. Amen! Both are cured!


Why is this number important?

Is it the number of days left 'til Christmas? Nope...it's only July!

Is it the number of files in my office that need my immediate attention? No, but it's probably fairly close.

Could it be, you wonder, the number of petals on a chrysanthemum? No.

It is, ladies and gentlemen, the projected temperature - in degrees Fahrenheit - in Phoenix on Friday. Gees.