by Julie HaleOctober 2009
New paperbacks for reading groups
The Story of Edgar Sawtelle
By David Wroblewski
Shakespeare’s Hamlet provides the foundation for Wroblewski’s debut—a compelling coming-of-age-tale set in 1970s Wisconsin. Edgar, a mute boy who helps his parents run their dog-breeding business, has a remarkable ability to bond with and train canines. He comes from a family of dog lovers that includes his grandfather, who started the breeding business, his father, Gar, and his paternal uncle, Claude, who left town years ago. When Claude returns unexpectedly, things turn sour for the Sawtelles. Gar and Claude quarrel bitterly, and a few weeks later, Gar dies under mysterious circumstances. Edgar feels certain that his uncle is somehow responsible. To make matters worse, Claude’s concern for Edgar’s mother, Trudy, seems inappropriate, and it soon becomes clear that he’s trying to seduce her. Determined to show that Claude had a hand in his father’s death, Edgar comes up with a plan that goes horribly awry. Forced to run away, he escapes into the woods of Wisconsin along with three young dogs. Yet the mystery of his father’s death proves an irresistible draw, and, hoping for answers, Edgar goes home—a decision that has fateful consequences. Wroblewski writes wonderfully poetic prose, and he uses it effectively to probe the themes of language and communication, both verbal and non-verbal. An Oprah’s Book Club pick and a bestseller, this is an inventive, original narrative from a gifted new writer. A reading group guide is included in the book.
By Elizabeth Berg
Berg’s latest book focuses on marriage, family and the female quest for personal fulfillment. Helen Ames, a successful novelist, has been dealing with writer’s block for a year, since the death of her husband, Dan. Fearful that her once-fertile writing life has dried up for good, Helen struggles to regain a sense of purpose. Taking on the daily responsibilities Dan once handled so that she could be free to pursue her career, Helen finds herself in unfamiliar—and frightening—territory. Her good-natured daughter, Tessa, a smart, stylish young woman who works as an editor at a fashion magazine, encourages Helen and tries to bolster her sagging spirit, as does Midge, Helen’s high-spirited best friend. But when Helen discovers that her financial status is not as secure as she assumed, unforeseen questions about Dan arise. Doubts about their relationship—and what Dan was doing with their money—start to plague Helen. Trying to make sense of her past while planning for the future, Helen searches for closure—and for a way back to the art that once sustained her. Another bestseller for Berg, this is a perceptive and sensitively written novel—a compassionate, illuminating narrative that examines the nature of love and the process of grieving. A reading group guide is included in the book.
By Philip Roth
Indignation is another masterwork from one of America’s greatest authors. Set in the 1950s, Roth’s 25th novel follows the adventures of young Marcus Messner, a native of Newark, New Jersey, who dreams of escaping the city. Desperate to break away from his possessive father, a kosher butcher, 19-year-old Marcus goes off to Winesburg College in Ohio. A bookish young man, he doesn’t quite fit in with his classmates—standoffish farm country natives who drink beer and attend church. Shying away from the campus’s Jewish fraternity, Marcus becomes involved with Olivia Hutton, a sensitive Gentile whose father is a successful doctor. Olivia seems wholesome to the core—and conventionally American—but Marcus soon learns that she’s concealing a dark past, and his entanglement with the girl brings more trouble than he ever dreamed possible. The Korean War is another source of worry for Marcus, who’s determined to succeed in school and evade service overseas. Intelligent, complex, and—like most teenagers—confused, he’s a fascinating point of focus in this vivid and compellingly plotted novel. Capturing both the uncertainty and the optimism that characterized the 1950s, the book richly explores the gaps that divide generations and genders, as well as the difficulties of relationships, and the power of sexual desire. Marked by his signature mixture of humor and melancholy, Roth’s latest has all the makings of a classic.