'EDGAR SAWTELLE' VS. 'THE OAKS'

A note from Rip Post reader Barbara Weeks, on the news that Rip is working on a sequel to "The Oaks."


Oak tree drawing by 14-year-old Rip Rense.

I've been thinking about "The Oaks" so much since I finished reading "The Story of Edgar Sawtelle," an almost-600 page Christmas gift, a week or so ago.

 
I pretty much enjoyed the book most of the way because of its interesting and sometimes beautiful descriptions of rural Wisconsin sometime around the '70s, and because of a lot of what seemed to be factual info about dogs and their training.  There was even some suspense!  But the end was a disaster for me -- sad, cynical, and very disappointing.
 
And then I looked to see who David Wroblewski thanked in several pages at the end.  Guess?  Not only the many, many people he enumerated by name who had read drafts and more drafts, but the many writers' workshops he had attended here and there over a period of many years 

 
"Why is a book like "The Oaks," of feeling, action, description, and an ability to remain in my mind when Edgar will be long forgotten, not picked up for (official) publication?" 
 
I only write small time, although in the distant past I had two pieces appear on the Los Angeles Times op-ed page (one was later picked up to be a chapter in a textbook by Cal State Northridge) and I "ghosted" a number of articles for Tom Bradley, including a speech he gave in DC that was mentioned editorially by the Washington Post.  Today I write letters and emails!  But, anyway, when I'm turned on about something and interested in expressing it in written words I really don't think a writer's workshop would be helpful (I've always hated workshops anyway) and I certainly wouldn't want lots of folks reading drafts.  One or two would be enough.
 
Then I started thinking about the book more critically, and realized that of the three or four main characters I didn't have a clue as to what was going on with them internally.  Edgar was mute, and spoke only in sign language.  But that certainly shouldn't have kept the author from telling us what he was actually thinking and feeling, how he was reacting emotionally to pressures, and why he thought that he could solve things by running away with three of the dogs.  His mother was a complete enigma, a female character without breadth or depth.  All I know about her for sure is that she knew how to drive a truck and how to train dogs.  The uncle, the villain, was equally obscure to me.  He went about clearly being the villain, but what was his motivation, what did he hope to achieve?
 
So, of course, I contrasted the book in my thinking to "The Oaks," whose main character still remains clearly in my mind.  And I had to ask: Why is a book like that, of feeling, action, description, and an ability to remain in my mind when Edgar will be long forgotten,  not picked up for publication?  What is the problem?  Are the agents blind? The publishers?
 
Well, I suppose it could be like the writer of "The Da Vince Code" whose other novels were never heard of until "Da" became a bestseller.  And, actually, I liked some of them better! 
 
So all of that is to say that I'm delighted to learn you're working on a sequel to "The Oaks."  Write on!


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