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A dog story for the ages

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I am completely smitten. The object of my newfound devotion is, alas, fictional. She’s a heroine of surpassing grace and faithfulness, equaled only by her intelligence and sense of smell. This paragon of virtue is named Almondine. And I should probably mention that she’s a dog.

Wait! Come back! Would it help if I promise that at no time does she break into song, perform a soft shoe, or crack wise about 1990s pop culture? Nor does she slurp spaghetti or battle the Red Baron. (I happen to find those last two traits endearing in a canine, but I understand some people grow weary of anthropomorphic animals.)

Almondine is all dog. Specifically, she is Edgar’s dog. And Edgar Sawtelle is the utterly disarming teenage hero at the center of David Wroblewski’s wonderful debut novel of the same name. Set on a small farm in rural Wisconsin, The Story of Edgar Sawtelle takes all kind of risks. The hero is mute, a few chapters are narrated from a dog’s point of view, and there are all kinds of ways the novel could have dissolved into a syrupy mess.

Instead, Wroblewski creates a tender coming-of-age story and grafts onto it a literary thriller with strong echoes of Shakespeare and “The Jungle Book.” The result is the most hauntingly impressive debut I’ve read all year.

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