Thursday, January 14, 2010

Week 9 Edgar Sawtelle

I found the chapter called Almondine almost unbearably sad. If Frank hadn't been sitting reading his book beside me I am sure I would have been crying. In the earlier chapter, Edgar is coming to terms with how he has treated Almondine and what he really wants. But, continuing the Shakespeare parallels, between Edgar's thoughts about Almondine and then Almondine's thoughts and actions, it is sure like the end of R & J.
Also, it's almost a year exactly from when I had to take my beautiful Stella Husky to be put to sleep. I still miss her so much, her companionship, trail-loving energy and sense of humour.
I guess some of my comments are going to return to what I wrote last week. Sorry to be a bit limited in my reflections. Much to my surprise, DW has written a bit about the theme of inevitability in the Week 9 chapters. On Page 457, Edgar says, "Life was a swarm of accidents waiting in the treetops, descending upon any living thing that passed, ready to eat them alive. You swam in a river of chance and coincidence."
He also addresses the motif of dog training and proofing. Edgar now rejects this cause and effect pattern, and decides on Page 453, "No more commands. Never again." I think this also relates to the earlier passages about whether dogs can analyze a situation and decide for themselves. He is giving this freedom to Essay, and then the whole next chapter is about Almondine's thought processes and her decision. Somehow I feel that the results for the dogs in this book are not going to be any happier than for the human characters.
I see this as a change in Edgar’s world view or personal philosophy. He no longer feels that he can control his future by making decisions. The proofing never worked that well on Essay anyway, yet in her recklessness and disobedience she did survive the waterspout/tornado. Maybe Edgar sees this as a viable alternative, to relinquish planning out his future and follow his heart back home. Or maybe he no longer cares if he is a victim of the “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.”
I also see that Edgar is moving even further away from the real world. Various elements that we would consider part of the world of human relationships and day to day routines are being removed from Edgar by the author. First his father, then the vet, then his friend Henry, then two of the three dogs … not to mention his focused existence on the farm was already unravelling by the time he left. Essay does not have the same bond with him, to tie him to the quotidian. Now Almondine is also gone. His mother and Claude are left, for now.
I really got thinking about two things this week. First, reading tragedy. Once the narrative has been identified as such, by you, the author, critics, or whomever, are you meant to then read through the lens of that structure? Less identification with characters, less personal connection? Or are you supposed to immerse yourself in the sadness?
Secondly, this year on my leave I have spent a lot of my time reading about the craft of writing and editing my novels. I would find it impossible I think to write a tragedy. I can't imagine the experience of living in Edgar's world every day for the number of years that it must have taken to write this book. Maybe I am too much a "method" writer! Or a wimp.
Finally, I found the writing itself in these four chapters to be even more lyrical and beautiful than the rest of the book. I am in awe of DW's descriptive abilities.On Page 456 he says, "He slept beside the dying embers as if trading them for dreams." Edgar has suffered many heartbreaks through making decisions or following his dreams. But to replace them with the beautiful death of a diminishing fire does not seem to forecast a happy future.
As a side note, this week I had a really interesting instance of the convergence offered by technology, the first for me. I had put a message on Twitter, where most of the people I follow are teachers, which in turn appeared automatically on Facebook, about Edgar Sawtelle as YA literature and a companion to Hamlet for senior students. A teacher from somewhere else in Ontario replied on Twitter that she agreed, and noted that in addition to the correspondence of characters and names we have already noted, she feels Almondine is fulfilling the role of Ophelia…

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