Monday, April 13, 2009

900 Pages to a Cowardly Ending

Disappointing Doggies
I even bought the large-print edition of The Story of Edgar Sawtelle so that my aged eyes could stay with all its 900 pages. David Wroblewski is a graduate of Warren Wilson College, also my MFA alma mater, and he's currently our biggest celebrity, his book about the mute son of dog breeders an Oprah selection and still on the best sellers' list. I wanted to celebrate it, and him.

And I was making progress conquering my insomnia and the last dregs of a hard winter of recalcitrant anxiety and withdrawal from a nasty drug named Klonopin, so it seemed delightful if I woke up in the middle of the night not to stress out, but simply to breathe deeply, reach for the fat novel at my bedside, snuggle up to a pile of my favorite pillows, and escape into the life of dogs.

So, for the first few hundred pages it worked -- I thoroughly enjoyed the boy's relationship to his dad and the kennel full of soulful canines, one of whom, the charming Almondine, gets her own point-of-view chapters from time to time.

But then hell on wheels, the thing turned dark, darker, darkest -- and though I kept with it right to Page 899, the ending drove me to the brink of derangement. Yes, there was at least one moment, staring at 4:03 a.m. on the night stand, that I considered maybe just a teenie half of a Klonopin. Wroblewski, if I'd fallen off the wagon I'd have blamed your hopeless ass. My saner side, the kind that knows how to separate myself from a disappointing piece of writing (oh students, you've trained me so well) won out and I'm still K-free. But PUHLEEZE! I want a little hope after 900 pages. I want good to triumph and evil to at LEAST be found out.

Oops, Wrong Dogs
A question: has the Quentin Tarantino approach overtaken our best writers? Did Reservoir Dogs somehow get mixed up with the Sawtelle Dogs?

And another question: does my wish for a different ending make me rub-ish and unsophisticated? Are the Warren Wilson alums supposed to prove our mettle with unrelentingly bleak assessments of the human condition?

I say no and no. I'm too old to seriously convince myself that being jaded and cynical is the route to cool. I want relief from reflex pessimism, which does no good. I want suggestions that all this pain and travail means something: I want acknowledgement of life's complexities and rich exploration of how something matters. And while our ultimate fate is dust, along the way we struggle for justice and truth and, dammit, hope. It's hard enough to find all that in actual daily life: I was very disappointed to find not even a little in Wroblewski's final pages.


greg rappleye said...

You are back!

I have to run, though.

More later!

Jack Mead said...

Jan, we talked about Carl Dennis. He's not an alum, but he's on the graduate faculty there. Maybe he can teach his students about this hope we want.