The Story of Edgar Sawtelle: A Novel (Oprah Book Club #62)

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Discussion Questions

From the Publisher: A warning: discussion questions can be—and probably must be—spoilers. Read on at your own risk!

1. How would Edgar's story have been different if he had been born with a voice? How would Edgar himself have been different? Since Edgar can communicate perfectly well in sign most of the time, why should having a voice make any difference at all?

2. At one point in this story, Trudy tells Edgar that what makes the Sawtelle dogs valuable is something that cannot be put into words, at least by her. By the end of the story, Edgar feels he understands what she meant, though he is equally at a loss to name this quality. What do you think Trudy meant?

3. How does Almondine's way of seeing the world differ from the human characters in this story? Does Essay's perception (which we can only infer) differ from Almondine's? Assuming that both dogs are examples of what John Sawtelle dubbed canis posterus, "the next dogs", what specifically can they do that other dogs cannot?

4. In what ways have dog training techniques changed in the last few decades? Do Edgar's own methods change over the course of the story? If so, why? Do different methods of dog training represent a trade-off of some kind, or are certain methods simply better? Would it be more or less difficult to train a breed of dogs that had been selected for many generations for their intellect?

5. Haunting is a prominent motif in The Story of Edgar Sawtelle. How many ghosts, both literal and figurative, are in this story? In what ways are the ghosts alike? Who is haunted, and by whom?

6. One of the abiding mysteries in Edgar's life concerns how his parents met. In fact, Edgar is an inveterate snoop about it. Yet when Trudy finally offers to tell him, he decides he'd rather not know. What does that reveal about Edgar's character or his state of mind? Do you think he might have made a different decision earlier in the story?

7. At first glance, Henry Lamb seems an unlikely caretaker for a pair of Sawtelle dogs, yet Edgar feels that Tinder and Baboo will be safe with him. What is it about Henry that makes him fit? Would it have been better if Edgar had placed the dogs with someone more experienced? Why doesn't Edgar simply insist that all the dogs return home with him?

8. Claude is a mysterious presence in this story. What does he want and when did he start wanting it? What is his modus operandi? Would his methods work in the real world, or is such behavior merely a convenient trope of fiction? Two of the final chapters are told from Claude's point of view. Do they help explain his character or motivation?

9. In one of Edgar's favorite passages from The Jungle Book, Bagheera tells Mowgli that he was once a caged animal, until "one night I felt that I was Bagheera—the Panther—and no man's plaything, and I broke the silly lock with one blow of my paw and came away." There is a dialectic in Edgar's story that is similarly concerned with the ideas of wildness and domestication. How does this manifest itself? What is the "wildest" element in the story? What is the most "domestic"?

10. Mark Doty has called The Story of Edgar Sawtelle "an American Hamlet." Certainly, there are moments that evoke that older drama, but many other significant story elements do not. Edgar's encounter with Ida Paine is one example out of many. Are other Shakespearean plays evoked in this story? Consider Macbeth, Romeo and Juliet, Othello, and The Tempest. In what sense is The Story of Edgar Sawtelle like all Elizabethan stage drama? Is it important to know (or not know) that the story is, at some level, a retelling of an older tale? Do you think Elizabethan audiences were aware that Hamlet was itself a retelling of an older story?

11. Until it surfaces later in the story, some readers forget entirely about the poison that makes its appearance in the Prologue; others never lose track of it. Which kind of reader were you? What is the nature of the poison? When the man and the old herbalist argue in the Prologue, who did you think was right?

12. In the final moments of the story, Essay must make a choice. What do you think she decides, and why? Do you think all the dogs will abide by her decision?

Suggested by Members

Hamlet - updated
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by sleepylrh (see profile) 10/26/10

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Was the setting & time important to the story? How?
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How are these breeding techniques different, and why do you think they work?
by susanbeamon (see profile) 09/12/09

There are great discussion q's online at the author's website.
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Discuss alternate endings
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Notes From the Author to the Bookclub

No notes at this time.

Book Club Recommendations

Member Reviews

Overall rating:
by Kelli M. (see profile) 01/19/18

  "Too long."by Mary S. (see profile) 02/08/17

200 fewer pages would've improved the reading experience for me. There were sections of extensive descriptions when I was pondering "what is the point?"

  "The Story of Edgar Sawtell"by Sharon R. (see profile) 07/08/16

Saying this book is well written is like a surgeon saying that the operations went perfectly but the patient died.

  "Author wrote beautifully"by Oleta W. (see profile) 07/08/16

The author's way with words was beautifully descriptive. The darkness of the story was heavy at times but I couldn't let go of the story. Wish the ending wasn't such a downer!

  "The Story of Edgar Sawtelle"by Lorrie E. (see profile) 03/17/14

Absolutely pointless.

  "Excellent book"by Catherine S. (see profile) 12/18/13

Well written. A book that will keep your interest.

  "So slow - could have been written in half the words"by LYNN T. (see profile) 12/20/11

OMG. I finally finished this long and laborious book. Honestly, it's a good story but way too long!!! And very confusing!

  "Wonderful"by ELIZABETH V. (see profile) 09/06/11

Last September (2008) I found Oprah's book pick, The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski, astounding not because it wasn't a good book but because I agreed with her, and I so seldom ... (read more)

  "reminiscent of Edgar Allen Poe"by Joy W. (see profile) 05/13/11

This was a very interesting story, and very reminiscent of Edgar Allen Poe, so if you liked his work you will like this. Most of our group enjoyed it, with the exception of those who don't l... (read more)

  "The Story of Edgar Sawtelle"by Lisa C. (see profile) 05/13/11

If you understand anything about dogs, this book will haunt you. The book does have a lot of inconsistencies in that it brings up a topic and then goes nowhere with it, but the journey in reading the story... (read more)

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