Book Discussion Questions: The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski

Story of Edgar Sawtelle book coverTitle:  The Story of Edgar Sawtelle
Author:  David Wroblewski
Page Count: 566 pages
Genre: Literary, Coming-of-Age, Domestic Saga
Tone:  Atmospheric, Lyrical, Haunting

Summary:
Born mute, speaking only in sign, Edgar leads an idyllic life with his parents on their dog breeding farm in remote Wisconsin. When Edgar is forced to flee after the sudden death of his father, he must fight for his survival and that of the three yearling dogs who follow him.

 

SPOILER WARNING:
These book discussion questions are highly detailed and will ruin plot points if you have not read the book.

Questions composed by MPPL Staff

1. Would you consider this a sad book? Did you enjoy the experience of reading this book?

2. When asked why he chose an unhappy ending, the author responded by referencing Franz Kafka:

I think we ought to read only the kind of books that wound or stab us. If the book we’re reading doesn’t wake us up with a blow to the head, what are we reading for? … we need books that affect us like a disaster, that grieve us deeply, like the death of someone we loved more than ourselves, like being banished into forests far from everyone, like a suicide. A book must be the axe for the frozen sea within us. That is my belief.

     What do you think about this perspective? Does it resonate with you – either with this book or with others?

3. The selection of this title as an Oprah’s Book Club pick certainly raised its profile. In your opinion, would this book have found an audience otherwise?

4. What was the purpose of the prologue?

5. Why was Schultz (the original landowner) given both backstory and recurring mentions?

6. How did you react to the character of Ida Paine?

7. Edgar’s youth is presented in a quick succession of snapshot details. Why spend little time here?

8. How would you characterize Edgar’s relationship with each of his parents?

9. How early do you think Claude had been plotting?

10. A frequent complaint is the length of the story. Did that bother you? Why would the author make that choice? What might be lost in cutting the story down? In your opinion, are there too many ideas for one book?

11. One seeming digression from the main plot is Edgar’s discovery of (and the detailed presenting of) the letters form Fortunate Fields. What did these letters reveal? Do you think this was an effective way to introduce this background and these ideas?

12. Did you note the epigraph by Charles Darwin? How might this, as well as the exploration of evolution and natural selection, inform the greater story?

13 “So a dog’s value came from the training and the breeding” – almost a nature vs. nurture compromise. How might this be reflected in the brothers Claude and Gar?

14. On specific occasions, the author emphasizes the word story. For example, as Edgar is reflecting on the detailed records, “Because the files, with their photographs, measurements…told them the STORY of the dog – what a dog MEANT, as his father put it.” How does this reflect back on the title of the book?

15. There’s no getting around the Hamlet references. Were there ones that you especially liked or found inventive or powerful? Any that were stretches? Any that you weren’t sure about?

16. Aside from the allusions, the story of Hamlet is never directly mentioned. In contrast, another book is frequently mentioned and even excerpted. What relevance does The Jungle Book have to this story?

17. Were you OK with the slight fantasy element of Gar’s appearances/interactions with Edgar?

18. What was the purpose of the story of Hachiko?

19. What is gained by Trudy’s voice being introduced half-way through? Did this make her more sympathetic? Would you have preferred this earlier? Not at all?

20. How would you describe the importance of Almondine? Did you like having her “voice”?

21. What is the role of Forte – both the first and the second? Do you think the first Forte was Gar’s dog or Claude’s?

22. What is accomplished in making Edgar mute? Why not deaf, too?

23. Why are words and names especially important to Edgar?

24. What did you think of Edgar’s time with Henry Lamb? In what ways is it significant?

25. Is this a book for dog lovers? How would you compare it to other books which feature dogs, especially those which give voice to the dog’s perspective?

26. Author Stephen King wrote, “I flat-out loved The Story of Edgar Sawtelle. In the end, this isn’t a novel about dogs or heartland America, it’s a novel about the human heart and the mysteries that live there, understood but impossible to articulate…. I don’t re-read many books because life is too short. I will be re-reading this one.” What do you think? Will you be re-reading this book?

Want help with your book discussion group? Check out tips, advice, and all the ways the Library can help support your group!

OTHER RESOURCES:

author David Wroblewski on the book that made him a reader
Hachiko and the Sawtelle Dogs
The New York Times interview with author
profile of Wroblewski in Bloom, a site featuring first books from authors over 40
video of Wroblewski presenting at The Chautauqua Institution
NPR podcast The Book Tour spotlights The Story of Edgar Sawtelle
LitLovers discussion guide
Oprah’s reader’s guide, including book club webcasts

READALIKES:

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The Art of Racing in the Rain  by Garth Stein

Aquarium  by David Vann

The Dead Fathers Club  by Matt Haig