The new bookclub met for the first time last week. What a lovely diverse group. We even have a token male, : ) but he was out of town so did a conference call on one lady's blackberry. The book under discussion was The Story of Edgar Sawtelle, by David Wroblewski.
The majority of participants found the story slow. It was a long book, topping out at 566 pages. When I pointed out the differences in literary vs. commercial fiction they were interested and opened themselves up to embrace a different type of read. Going into a literary work I know what to expect. Beautiful prose (an element of music beneath the words, space to explore deeper philosophies, time to enter into a richer more magical world, a willingness to allow the author to warm up his engines. Commercial fiction on the other hand, (at least for me) is where the expectation is one of immediate action. There's no time to waste. Don't stop to smell the roses. Get the first clues out, present a dead body, have the protagonist in the midst of a dilemma, introduce the hunky hero right up front so we know what we're dealing with. And the list goes on.
I read and enjoy both style of book, but my reading enjoyment varies. Like my choice in ice cream. I have my favorite but sometimes I want vanilla, othertimes chocolate, and in a plain cone. Hey, sometimes I'll even get daring and go for pistachio, or get out a bowl add some chocolate fudge and make a sundae. ;)
Back to Edgar.
I found the book initially appealing. Although I don't normally like prologues I do think this one was necessary, and it stayed with me throughout the entire story. About a third of the way in I grew tired of the description of landscape etc., because it was already set in my mind. I knew where we were although I've never visited Wisconsin. There were a few too many sunbeams on bales of straw for me. I lusted after some action.
That said, the characters were well drawn, the dogs wonderful, and the prose kept me going. I knew I wouldn't not finish the story, although it did take me two weeks where I'd normally read four commercial novels in that time period. Then things heated up a bit by mid-book. I'd read Mark Doty's comment on this perhaps being a modern day Hamlet. Then I started thinking about Shakespeare's works and realized it incorporated many other themes as well. I visited the author's website and found someone else had commented in the same vein. My interest was sparked.
Don't want to give away any spoilers here but if you start this book, stick with it. At the end I was angry because of the ending, but the story wouldn't go away and continued to simmer and stew in my thoughts. About a week later I decided it was indeed the best ending for this story. I was finally satisfied and deeply in awe of the author. He pulled off something very difficult. He left the reader without a happily ever after, a ton of questions that demanded answers, and for me, a desire to read the whole damn thing all over again.