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The Story of Edgar Sawtelle

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Language  English
Media type  Print (hardcover)
Dewey Decimal  813/.6 22
Originally published  2008
Publisher  HarperCollins
OCLC  179805747
3.6/5 Goodreads

Publication date  2008
ISBN  978-0-06-137422-7
LC Class  PS3623.R63 S76 2008
Author  David Wroblewski
Country  United States of America
Awards  Oprah's Book Club
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Similar  Oprah's Book Club winners, Dog books

The Story of Edgar Sawtelle is the first novel by American author David Wroblewski. It became a New York Times Best Seller on June 29, 2008, and Oprah Winfrey chose it for her book club on September 19, 2008. Winfrey also included the book as one of the few tangible gifts in her recession-themed thrifty Oprah's Favorite Things that year.


The novel is a retelling of Shakespeare's Hamlet in rural Wisconsin. The title character is a mute boy who, after his father is killed, runs away from but then returns to his usurped home, hoping to prove his suspicions that his uncle murdered his father.

Book review the story of edgar sawtelle by david wroblewski

Plot summary

Forte's Children

Edgar comes from a line of dog breeders. After buying a farm, his grandfather rents out the farmland and starts dog breeding. He and his wife have two sons, Edgar's father (Gar) and Claude. Claude leaves the farm and Gar stays on and carries on the family business. After some troubled attempts to have a child, Gar and his wife (Trudy) have Edgar. After his parents come to understand that he is mute, Edgar grows up on the farm learning to breed dogs with his parents and Almondine, his own dog. Once he is old enough, his parents give him his own litter to raise.

Eventually, Claude returns to the farm. After a brief stint of helping out around the house and barn, he leaves after a drunken brawl with Gar. A few weeks later, Edgar finds his father in the barn, dying mysteriously. After unsuccessfully trying to call for help, Edgar watches his father die.

Three Griefs

After burying Gar, Edgar and Trudy decide to keep the family business running, despite the new workload. However, shortly after beginning to adjust to Gar's death, Trudy catches pneumonia and Edgar attempts to carry on the work without her. Before long, two dogs end up in a vicious fight. With both dogs injured and their vet out of town, they must call on Claude for assistance. After he helps treat the dogs and Trudy recovers, they begin to sleep together.

One night not long after, Edgar wakes to the dogs barking and goes to investigate. Searching around in a storm for what was causing the dogs to bark, he sees the outline of his father's ghost in the rain. Through signs, Edgar is led to the syringe that most likely killed his father – one that he has seen Claude use before.

What Hands Do

After Edgar confirms for sure that his mother and Claude are indeed romantically involved, he struggles to live under the same roof with his uncle. He comes to seek confirmation for his suspicions about his father's murder.

When a potential buyer comes over to take a look at their dogs, Edgar seizes on the opportunity to test Claude. He stages a scene with the dogs, in which they mimic Claude using a syringe to poison people. One dog touches another with a syringe in its mouth and the touched dog falls over and plays dead. The final dog touches Claude's leg, and when he flinches, Edgar feels he has confirmed his suspicions.

Angry at the strange show Edgar put on in front of a buyer, Trudy confronts Edgar and they get in a struggle. In the midst of their argument, Edgar, enraged, seeing a figure he thinks to be Claude, swings a hay hook and sends him tumbling down the stairs, killing him. Trudy discovers that the figure was actually Dr. Papineau, their vet. Scared at what might happen to Edgar because of the death, she tells him to disappear for a while. Three dogs from his litter follow him into the woods.


Edgar drifts in the woods and, without a fishing tackle, is forced to rob the cabins he comes across for food. Eventually he decides to head up to Canada, where there is a commune he hopes to join. Along the way however, one of his dogs is injured, and he is forced to seek help.

He goes to a house he has just robbed and the owner, Henry, helps him with the injured dog. He takes to Henry, and agrees to stay there until his dog has healed. Once the dog is healed, Henry offers to give Edgar a ride up north to his destination. En route they are hit by a tornado. In the aftermath, Edgar decides to return home.


Edgar returns home and leaves a note in his house for his mother. Claude finds it before Trudy and tells Glen, a police officer and son of Dr. Papineau, who is suspicious that Edgar caused his father's death. Spooked by Edgar's appearance, Claude moves a bottle of poison in the barn and Edgar catches him. Later, Edgar sees his mother and convinces her to give him a night alone in the barn, so he can search for the poison Claude moved. Meanwhile, Claude and Glen plot to trap Edgar, so Glen can “question” him.

Glen surprises Edgar in the barn and tries to kidnap him using a rag soaked in ether. Edgar manages to grab some quicklime and douses Glen in it. It gets in Glen's eyes and he stumbles out of the barn, blinded. The ether hits a lamp and the barn lights on fire. Edgar, worried for the dogs papers, his father's life's work, starts moving them out of the barn while it burns up. Claude has hidden the poison with the papers, though. He pretends to help Edgar take the files out of the barn, grabs the bottle of poison, and when he is not looking, stabs Edgar with a syringe in the burning barn. As Claude waits for the poison to work on Edgar, the barn fills with smoke. Claude is unable to escape and he and Edgar die in the barn. The Sawtelle dogs, who have escaped the fire, leave into the wild.


In 2012, writer Wentworth Miller acquired the rights of the novel for a feature film for producers Tom Hanks and Oprah Winfrey.


The Story of Edgar Sawtelle Wikipedia