We know D.C. Get our free newsletter to stay in the know.
The boy-and-his-dog tale at the heart of David Wroblewski’s debut novel, The Story of Edgar Sawtelle, is deeply observed, as symbolically deep as any epic, and most surprising of all, devoid of easy sentiment. After all, the rough outlines of the novel would be perfect for a three-hanky affair: Edgar Sawtelle is a mute adolescent who’s coming of age on a rural north Wisconsin farm where his parents breed “Sawtelle dogs,” exceedingly well-trained service animals, and Edgar has to help keep the family afloat after Dad dies. Wroblewski keeps from drifting into Marley & Me–brand cutesiness partly by way of the plot he’s constructed; the book is a widescreen tragedy, its version of small-town America as suffused with fuckups and failures as good-hearted country folk. More critical, though, is the crisp, unfussy language that Wroblewski employs throughout to temper the high emotions that the Sawtelles—humans and dogs alike—go through. It’s a reserved and not especially colorful style, and it seems unique to rural American writers—fans of Kent Haruf’s Plainsong and Thomas McGuane’s recent work already have a sense of its straightforward music. And just like those two writers, Wroblewski gets some surprising effects from it. The book’s most powerful sections aren’t noisy, just full of relevant detail, expertly woven—one section depicting Edgar’s solitary journey away from the farm gets so much emotional mileage by merely describing nearly every step he takes, to the point that it’s almost shocking to realize that the kid didn’t really wander so far at all. Wroblewski discusses and signs copies of his work at 7 p.m. Thursday, June 26, at Politics and Prose, 5015 Connecticut Ave. NW. Free. (202) 364-1919.