by MARTY DEMAREST & r & & r & The Story of Edgar Sawtelle & r & by David Wroblevski & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & T & lt;/span & he Story of Edgar Sawtelle is the story of Hamlet transposed to a Wisconsin farm in the middish-20th century. But the parallels are obvious. Edgar, the farm's young scion, takes on the title role. His mother Trudy plays Gertrude, Hamlet's clinging and clutching mother-queen. Claudius, the man who marries Gertrude after her husband's death, becomes simply uncle Claude. Alas, poor Yorick has been renamed Almondine and conflated with Ophelia in the form of a dog.
In The Story of Edgar Sawtelle, the dog has his day. This is a canine-lover's novel. Edgar was born without the ability to talk, and his closest interlocutors are the dogs that his family raises. Though the adolescent Edgar obviously differs from the endlessly chatty Hamlet, his thinking is just as obsessive and his vocabulary as vast. He even knows an "eight-letter word for 'Formed of fire or light.'" But with his dogs no words are needed, and author David Wroblevski captures the connection between man and beast with superb sensitivity.
He's also pretty good with Shakespeare. The insights Wroblevski finds into Trudy's love affair with her dead husband's brother humanize the character of Gertrude as not even a good actress can. His delving into the mind of Almondine delineates a loving madness that Shakespeare only implied (albeit perfectly). By the time the novel reaches its empyreal conclusion, Hamlet has been exploded, exploited and examined more enjoyably than most literary lectures.
Clearly, however, Edgar Sawtelle is a first novel. Wroblevski's adjectives and adverbs bump into words they don't mean to modify in a way that's neither precise nor artfully ambiguous. Large swaths of the story are blindly derivative. (A scene in which Edgar has his dogs enact a murder is a plodding reconstruction of a scene that sings in Shakespeare.) And excessive love of language makes portions of the book feel like a plot-driven thesaurus. But when Wroblevski writes directly about his humans and his dogs, the story grows such a generous heart that it is hard not to look forward with wagging tail to Wroblevski's next novel -- and the next and the next.