On the back of the book jacket, Stephen King says that he "flat-out loved" The Story of Edgar Sawtelle. He also said that he never usually re-reads books but that he will this one. Oprah made it one of her 2008 Book Club selections. Due respect to these media titans but I disagree. (BTW, if you intend to read The Story of Edgar Sawtelle, perhaps you'd best return to this post after you've read it. Otherwise, be warned--there be spoilers ahead!)
I finished the story on Friday morning before DH and I headed to the Newseum (the subject of another post, I'm sure). The rest of the day, I was shaking my head and saying to myself, "What?" It ends with most of the human characters dead and one of the dog characters making her choice on where to start her new life without humans with her pack of those who survived the trip, the fittest, I guess, following her. I thought, "What a lousy way to end a book," and "Oprah has really lost it this time."
I kept mulling it over. I fell asleep and in the night God's Spirit must have talked to my spirit because I had an epiphany--it's all about the worldview, baby. Neither Stephen King nor Oprah share my evangelical Christian worldview. So it stands to reason that they'd see this book differently than I did.
I don't believe evolution explains the world very well. The author of this book seems to with the Sawtelle dogs evolving into the "next dogs" who could decide for themselves. (Although I'd submit that the Sawtelle men had a lot to do with the intelligent design of this breed.) Essay at the end of the book seemed to be the first of these "next dogs" who could decide where they were going in life--after all she did bark back a water spout (in her opinion).
I thought that justice should have been done--Edgar should have been made responsible for his manslaughter of Dr. Papineau (even if it was wiped off the books at 18), Claude should have paid a la the best detective shows for his murder of Gar Sawtelle, Trudy shouldn't have lost her son, her husband and most of her dogs. The author had a different view of justice--Claude did die and Edgar did pay and life was just tough to Trudy, but one day she'd be with those she loved probably if Edgar's seeing Almondine at death was any indication.
To me the book was unsatisfying--why in heaven's name should you bother with a "coming of age" story about a boy who is going to be murdered as soon as he gets home? In the worldview of the book, however, that scenario makes perfect sense because it wasn't just the boy who was growing up, it was the dogs, too. They survived even if the people didn't.
One of my fellow book-clubbers summed up my sentiments about The Story of Edgar Sawtelle exactly when she said that we shouldn't read any more Oprah Book Club books. I did learn how hard dogs were to train without having to train one myself, but that wasn't enough to recommend the book. This is one I'm selling to my local used book store.