Wednesday, June 08, 2011

The Story of Edgar Sawtelle (TBR Challenge Book 9)

Wroblewski, David. The Story of Edgar Sawtelle. New York: Ecco. 2008.

I wonder if anyone even remembers that I came up with a TBR challenge and then extended it when I found I couldn't keep to it. I wouldn't blame you if you didn't remember, but I'm here to tell you today that I'm slowly, but surely, still reading books from the list. I'm trying to make some sense of this one, so I thought I'd get my post up on it, even though I have plenty of others waiting for posts.

You see, I was ever so disappointed with this book, and I can't quite put my finger on exactly why. It isn't that Wroblewski can't write. Write he most definitely can. It isn't that it was boring or that I lost interest or that the characters just didn't seem believable or real. All those ingredients were there. I hope that the problem isn't that I'm such a stickler when it comes to editorial detail that I couldn't get past the fact that Edgar's birthday couldn't possibly have been in the month and year noted (I won't tell you why, in case you haven't read the book, but suffice it to say that the events leading up to his birth would've made it impossible). I mean, I would hope I'd be able to forgive an author (and his editor) for such an error (especially since I've asked others who've read the book, and none of them noticed that error) or at least embrace the notion of poetic license, miraculously-short-full-term pregnancies and all.

I'm pretty sure I would have if other aspects of the book hadn't bothered me, but once I realized I wasn't loving the book, like all mistaken loves that turn out to be mere infatuations, that small flaw grew all out of proportion. By the time I finished the book and was trying to figure out why I hadn't liked it more than I did, I was all too eager to think, "I should've known from the beginning I wasn't gonna like it. After all, Edgar's birth date was impossible."

Let's pretend, though, that I'm not quite so superficial. That might help us to see that my real problem with the book has nothing to do with birth dates. My real problem is the whole Hamlet connection. That's what just really didn't work for me. I'm realizing that it's not really that I'm such a stickler for detail; it's that I seem to desire extremes. The Hamlet theme here was neither subtle enough (come on, did the names really have to be so obvious?) nor faithful enough to the original (Ophelia was not named Ophelia or anything that sounded like Ophelia. But, then, when I figured out who Ophelia was, my reaction again was, "Oh, come on. Please!" That doesn't mean, however, the lump wasn't in my throat when "Hamlet" discovers she's dead).

I almost felt as if Wroblewski had been writing this great, imaginative story and suddenly found himself thinking, "Uh-oh. This is too much like Hamlet. What am I gonna do about that? Hmmm, well, let's just make it a reworking of Hamlet while throwing in some original twists and turns to make it a little more subtle." I know that's not what he did. It's obvious by the end that he studied Hamlet inside out and backwards, but the connections he chose to make and those he chose not to make just didn't work for me.

Still, I finished the book, and I didn't have to do that. After all, we all know that everyone dies in Hamlet, which means I could pretty much figure out how this book would end. The fact I read it to the bitter end says something. I can't quite dismiss the book or say I didn't like it. All I can do is repeat myself: I was ever so disappointed.


bloglily said...

I think this raises such an interesting question of when literary re-imaginings work and when they don't. Have you read Updikes' Gertrude and Claudius? Now that's really well done and really worth reading, in my opinion, in part because it stands on its own and in part because it makes you look at the Hamlet story from a different angle, which is both fun and interesting. It seems to me that it's awfully hard to re-work Shakespeare well. Placing Shakespeare in the present and in another setting is one thing that I think can and does work -- particularly if it's clear that's what you're doing. Echoing Shakespeare can also work if what you're doing is borrowing the shape of, say the comedies in general. I think I'll have to read this now, if only to see when a re-working doesn't work. And so even though you weren't crazy about it, I'm really glad you wrote about it! One more TBR down. xo

Emily Barton said...

Bloglily, happy to add to the TBR pile. And you might end up loving the book. I'm about the only weirdo I know who's read it and didn't love it.

Carrie#K said...

Everyone dies in Hamlet?!? Is that a spoiler?

(Just kidding. Couldn't resist). Hmm. Now I'm tempted to read it myself even though I really hate sad endings.

Emily Barton said...

Carrie, lol. I should've said, "Warning: spoiler," no? Funny how sometimes reading that someone didn't really like a book can make us want to read it. That happens to me quite frequently.

litlove said...

Some books just don't work at the time of reading. And like all of life, you have to have the duds to appreciate the triumphs. You got to the end and gave it a fair chance, and you really can't do more than that!

Stefanie said...

Too bad this one was so disappointing for you. I thought it sounded interesting when it first came out but then Oprah picked it so book snob me decided that I was no longer interested.