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FAMILIARIS by David Wroblewski Kirkus Star


by David Wroblewski

Pub Date: June 11th, 2024
ISBN: 9798212194297
Publisher: Blackstone

A great American novel of people and passions and ideas—and, of course, dogs.

For the many fans of The Story of Edgar Sawtelle (2008), this ambitious and captivating prequel focuses on that character’s grandfather, John Sawtelle. Its nearly 1,000 pages begin in 1919 when John, who has been working as a road-tester at a car factory, finds a perfect piece of land when his jalopy breaks down in middle-of-nowhere Wisconsin, where he surprises his dog, Gus, by walking 63 yards on his hands. John won’t take possession of this inspiring tract for another 300-some pages, necessary to introduce the key characters and elements Wroblewski has invented to populate his cabinet of wonders. Characters include a giant carpenter named Elbow; a World War I amputee named Frank Eckling; John’s brilliant and sensitive soulmate, Mary; a logger named So Jack Von Osten and his huge horse, Granddaddy, who can both count and give romantic counseling. Elements: none more important than a fictional 1897 volume called Practical Agriculture and Free Will by George Solomon Drencher, the source of John’s conviction that life’s purpose is to “Seek, seek, seek—the Singularism!” John’s singularism is of course encapsulated in the breed of dog he and Mary will eventually develop, the Sawtelle dog; you’ll wait another few hundred pages for that to emerge, but the delights along the way are manifold. Like this comparison of whiskey and brandy: “Whiskey tasted like some­thing squeezed out of an oak plank, like mentholated gasoline. Brandy was composed of equal parts sunlight and lava. Where whiskey came home looking for an argument, brandy noticed how truly simpatico you were.” One of the darker parts of the book focuses on a terrible incident involving John and Mary’s sons, setting the stage for events readers of Edgar will recall with a chill. A hilarious and moving section toward the end—by now it’s the late 1950s—follows John’s attempts to write a book called Familiaris, in which the author may or may not reveal secrets of his craft. Already having drawn comparisons to Russo, Irving, Strout, McCarthy, and Gilbert, with García Márquez added here, Wroblewski earns them all, amply rewarding readers who have been waiting impatiently for 15 years.

For all the eons it may take to read it, this colossus of a book will own you.