February 5, 2009

The Story of Edgar Sawtelle ****

**** The Story of Edgar Sawtelle, David Wroblewski, 2008

First Novel

It seems I'm the go-to guy when somebody can't seem to get going on a book. "Here," The Woman, says, "Read this and tell me if it's worth reading. They say it's good, but I can't get past page 30."

I ask you, how did I get this job? First Pessl and now Wroblewski. Well, at least it's breaking in some new blood and giving me some fodder for my new First Novel series. We'll see how it holds up.

This book is Hamlet meets Peace Like a River. This guy can write. Check out this passage about Ida Paine, "the hawk-nosed, farsighted proprietor of the store" in Popcorn Corners.

The locals were inured to all this, but strangers sometimes lost their wits. "That it?" she would ask when she'd totaled their items, cocking her head and fixing them with a stare. "Anything else?" The veiny digits of her left hand punched the keys of the adding machine and leapt onto the lever. Thump! The thump really startled them. Or maybe it was the head-cock. You could see people stop to think, was that really it? The question began to reverberate in their minds, a metaphysical conundrum. Wasn't there something else? They began to wonder if this could possibly be their Final Purchase: four cans of beans and franks, a bag of Old Dutch potato chips, and half a dozen bobbers. Was that it? Wasn't there anything else they ought to get? And for that matter, had they ever accomplished anything of significance in their entire lives? "No," they'd gulp, peering into Ida's depthless black pupils, "that's all," or sometimes, "Um, pack of Luckies?" This last was issued as a question, as if they had begun to suspect that an incorrect answer would get them flung into a chasm. Cigarettes often came to their minds, partly because Ida herself smoked like a fiend, a white curl aways streaming from her mouth to rise and merge with the great galaxy of smoke wreathing over her head. But mainly, when the uninitiated stood before Ida Paine, they found themselves thinking that the future was preordained. So why not take up cigarettes?

And that's a minor, though pivotal, character who only shows up 2 or 3 times in 562 pages. This is a rich, deep story with rich, deep characters. With an ending that's more Hamlet that Peace. Let's just say it's not a Hollywood ending. I get the feeling the ending is probably typical of an Oprah book, but maybe not.

Let's see. What other Oprah books have I read? The Poisonwood Bible, Cry The Beloved Country, The Sound and the Fury, The Heart is a Lonely Hunter. I heard White Oleander on tape. A mixed bag, at best, when it comes to endings.

Well, the four stars pretty much say it. Read this one. Your mileage may vary.

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