Book Simple: A Book for Dog Lovers As Reviewed By a Cat Lover
a blogumn by Amy Brown
I live in a studio apartment. Four walls that could nicely serve as a squash court make up my entire (rented) domain. Needless to say, I don’t have a pet. But I do believe the world can be separated into two groups: those who involuntarily purr at the appearance of a cat and those who drool back at dogs. Yes, yes, I know. You love both! Or neither! But deep down, genetic-level deep within yourself, you know that there’s one you like more or despise less.
I coo at cats. Actually, I have what many friends have called a “cat voice,” which makes them able to identify, even via telephone, when I see a cat in a street or window or magazine. And a big dog bit me when I was about three.
While I don’t love dogs, I do love Hamlet, so the retelling of Shakespeare’s play by David Wroblewski, The Story of Edgar Sawtelle, seemed like a fun idea. I should have known that a book containing an index of “Canine Classics” at the end of it might not be right up my alley.
The story begins with a set of puppies. These dogs are special, bred to be companions through the careful “Mendelian” calculations of Edgar’s grandfather and father. Our hero, Edgar turns out to be special as well: the long-anticipated child of another Edgar and Trudy. However, he is mute. Unable to speak, he proves unable to help when his beloved father dies unexpectedly, and his uncle Claude moves in to take his father’s place.
I don’t mind books that draw their reason for being from another (usually better) work of literature. I’m looking forward to reading Dan Simmons’s new thriller Drood, which is sitting eagerly on my bookshelf and waiting for me to read The Mystery of Edwin Drood first. Also I don’t mean to imply that The Story of Edgar Sawtelle isn’t well-written; it is, and I enjoyed sections of it.
But the book doesn’t gain much by comparison with Hamlet. Edgar spends endless paragraphs explaining the techniques of training their dogs. “For example, if he wanted Baboo to down, all Edgar had to do was lift his hand in the air … They called this linking – teaching a dog that one action automatically followed another. Linking was what made for a clean finish on a recall, when the dog not only returned but circled behind and sat on one’s left.” Picture a cat bothering to follow these ridiculous instructions. A cat wouldn’t have followed Edgar on the run from the farm after another big death. It would’ve stayed where there was warmth, food and shelter. Cats are survivors.
Of course, the Sawtelle dogs survive as well. In a shocking departure from the usual dog story ending, the kennel inhabitants reach the end of the book still breathing. Which is good, since there’s nothing so boring as trying to squeeze out tears for those dumb slobs.