(More customer reviews)Sometimes a book just has the wrong ending, not a sad or loose end trailing kind of ending--both of those endings are just fine if they are the right ending for the story, but the wrong ending. 'The Story of Edgar Sawtelle' is a book with the wrong ending, making it a frustrating read.
Unanswered threads such as how Edgar's parents met or why Gar and Claude hated each other or exactly how Almondine died don't really affect the quality of the story; the author has given us enough clues to let us fill in those blanks on our own. Edgar's parents had created a lovely game of giving Edgar misinformation about their courtship. The truth, although good, as his mother said, would only be a letdown. Any tale of sibling rivalry goes back to Cain and Abel. We can fill in how Claude was jealous of Gar and how Gar resented Claude getting away with things. Almondine died because she was old and old dogs die and she died because she was Ophelia and Ophelia dies. It doesn't matter whether the car hit her (which I don't think happened) or whether she just died on the side of the road waiting for Edgar to return. Her fate was to die while Edgar was away.
But a wrong ending is a completely different matter. It can make us resent the time and emotion we have invested in a story. And the ending is wrong for this book whether you see it as a retelling of 'Hamlet' or as a dog story. 'The Story of Edgar Sawtelle' follows the plot in 'Hamlet' so closely that it is wrong that Trudy/Gertrude doesn't get the poison intended for Edgar and wrong that Claude/Claudius getting trapped in the burning barn doesn't feel more satisfying and dramatic. To leave Trudy out of the ghostly group hug at the end is, as several people have commented, just cruel. Why leave Trudy alive and destroyed at the end without the redemption of an afterlife with the ones she loved? What evil did she do to deserve a worse end than Claude? Remember, she didn't even ask Claude back. Edgar did when he realized that his mother would die if she didn't get help with the kennel.
If you look at the story as a dog story, then the ending is wrong as well. John Sawtelle picked dogs that had a special connection to their humans. Gar and Trudy carried this on in their dog breeding. That is the importance of the Haichiko story, in addition, of course, to its relevance as a ghost story in the 'Hamlet' parallel. Essay chose Edgar. So to have her choose to lead the other dogs off instead of coming into the barn to defend and protect Edgar, as Almondine did with the rabid animal, has her make an incomprehensible (and enormously wrong) choice. If Wroblewski wanted to show us that you can't breed loyalty, then why did the rest of the story show us that you can. Trudy has spent the entire book trying to get Edgar to understand what makes the Sawtelle dogs special and as soon as he gets it, the next step in the evolution of Sawtelle dogs, Essay, shows him that Trudy was wrong. To have Edgar go to the trouble of saving the kennel papers just to show us how worthless they are--the dogs have gone wild, Edgar is dead and Trudy catatonic--is a pretty nihilistic and wrong-headed conclusion, given the loyalty and love that have filled the rest of the story.
Are we supposed to believe that Edgar would allow Claude to get so close given his understanding of Claude's intentions? Are we supposed to believe that Trudy whose love for her son kept her from irrecoverable depression would not have found some way to get into the barn, even if she had to maim Glen further to break free?
'The Story of Edgar Sawtelle' frustrates so many of us posting on this site because the ending feels so wrong. Could Wroblewski have just gotten tired of telling his story and wanted to be done or perhaps his editor was up against a time crunch and needed to get the book to bookstore shelves quickly? Whatever happened, it's a shame because the characters deserved a proper ending and so did we, the readers.
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