The Miracle Life of Edgar Mint: A Novel

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Overview

“Profound and stirring . . . brilliantly executed.”—Wall Street Journal
“Rambling and generous . . . it reads at times like a John Irving novel touched up by Roy Blount Jr. . . . Sweet, sad, and refreshing.”—New York Times Book Review
“[Edgar’s] soul is as spotless as John Wayne’s .45, and so is Udall’s sharp and rangy prose. His similes sting, his sentences go bang, and his chapters roll like the wagon wheels across the harsh Mormon desert of ...

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Overview

“Profound and stirring . . . brilliantly executed.”—Wall Street Journal
“Rambling and generous . . . it reads at times like a John Irving novel touched up by Roy Blount Jr. . . . Sweet, sad, and refreshing.”—New York Times Book Review
“[Edgar’s] soul is as spotless as John Wayne’s .45, and so is Udall’s sharp and rangy prose. His similes sting, his sentences go bang, and his chapters roll like the wagon wheels across the harsh Mormon desert of right and wrong.”—GQ
“Extraordinary. . . . There are pages that are just fall-down funny. . . . It’s like nothing else you’ve ever read.”—Newsweek
“Vibrant, big-hearted. . . . A poignant, picaresque odyssey.”?—Chicago Tribune
“A marvelous first novel. . . . An adept mix of humor and pathos.”—Los Angeles Times
“An ingenious tale [that] takes its heart from Dickens and its soul from America’s great outlaw West.”—Elle

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Editorial Reviews

Clyde Edgerton
Brady Udall has got what it takes.
William Kittredge
A new generation of writers is emerging from the West, and Brady Udall is one of the very best of them.
Tony Earley
If Dickens had been born in Arizona, he might have written a book like this.
Junot Diaz
A story that tears at you and calls you back.
Elle
[An] ingenious tale, which takes its heart from Dickens and its soul from America's great outlaw West.
Melanie Rae Thon
Wild, inventive, hilarious, and heart-breaking...full of delights for the spirit and the senses.
School Library Journal
Adult/High School-With Dickensian flair and mastery, Udall gives readers an underdog child protagonist, surrounds him with a cast of half-funny and half-tragic characters, and immerses them all in a plot full of staggering setbacks and occasional, hard-won moments of peace. When his head is crushed by a mail truck at age seven, Edgar is left for dead by his alcoholic, disinterested mother, who doesn't stick around to learn that he is later "brought back" by a shady doctor and whisked away to a hospital to recuperate. Some months and several delightfully cantankerous roommates later, Edgar regains all functions but the ability to write, which is more than solved when a fellow patient gets him a typewriter. Typing soothes the boy and becomes necessary therapy when he is released to an Indian school where other students punish him horrifically for being a "half-breed" (Apache and white). He is saved, literally and figuratively, by a pair of missionaries who recruit and place him with a Mormon family in a Utah suburb. Now that he feels relatively safe, the protagonist finds himself with a new purpose: to track down the devastated mailman who feels responsible for his death and let him know that he's alive and fine. Yet his sense of safety remains merely relative, as the disbarred doctor surfaces repeatedly in his life, full of menacing, disturbing love and determined to raise Edgar as his own son. This novel is a wonderful, wise debut, with a strong story told in language that teens will find easy to embrace.-Emily Lloyd, Fairfax County Public Library, VA Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A picaresque, coming-of-ager by Udall (stories: Letting Loose the Hounds, 1997) invokes nearly every archetype of the genre while still managing to be fresh and vigorous, and unveiling a rarely seen slice of American life in the process. Edgar's Apache mother had her first drink the day she gave birth to him, on an Arizona reservation, and was never again sober. And his white father split seven months before. So life's looking pretty bleak until the now-seven-year-old gets his head run over by the mailman's jeep, surviving the first in a series of miracles. When he wakes up three months later, he's not just gaining consciousness—little Edgar is being born into a whole new life. St. Divine's Hospital, with its infrequent attention and even more infrequent love, provides Edgar with a family that's a huge improvement over his biological one. With echoes of Dickens, Edgar meets the stock characters who will reappear throughout his life. It can take a bit to get accustomed to the unique, alternating voices—an intimate, poignant, humorous first-person and a well-paced third—but, ultimately, it's wonderfully successful. From the hospital, Edgar is shipped to the William Tecumseh Sherman School, a Native American reformatory sure to rival any fictional institution for cruelty and deprivation. Despite this, though, the boy never quite loses the comic edge that lends his story its buoyancy. Edgar eventually manages to get placed with a Mormon family—on loan from some John Irving tale—complete with a genius stepbrother, a sexy stepsister, and an adulterous stepmom. Somewhere along the way he's decided that his life mission is to find that mailman in the jeep who wasthe prime mover behind all this: he wants to let the guy know he's just fine. This quest, which sends the teenaged Edgar from Utah across the country, leads to a close as unexpected as it is heartbreaking. A remarkably assured debut novel that brings to life a unique world, tells its story with skill, and remains enthralling throughout. A bit of a miracle in its own right.
William Kittredge
“A new generation of writers is emerging from the West, and Brady Udall is one of the very best of them.”
Clyde Edgerton
“Brady Udall has got what it takes.”
Junot Díaz
“A story that tears at you and calls you back.”
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780393341645
  • Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 7/9/2012
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 432
  • Sales rank: 465,096
  • Product dimensions: 5.40 (w) x 8.20 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Brady Udall

Brady Udall is the author of The Lonely Polygamist, a New York Times bestseller, and Letting Loose the Hounds. He teaches at Boise State University and lives in Boise, Idaho, with his wife and children.

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Read an Excerpt




Chapter One


THE MAILMAN


If I could tell you only one thing about my life it would be this: when I was seven years old the mailman ran over my head. As formative events go, nothing else comes close; my careening, zigzag existence, my wounded brain and faith in God, my collisions with joy and affliction, all of it has come, in one way or another, out of that moment on a summer morning when the left rear tire of a United States postal jeep ground my tiny head into the hot gravel of the San Carlos Apache Indian Reservation.

    It was a typical July day, ten o'clock and already pushing a hundred, the whole world lit with a painful white light. Our house was particularly vulnerable to the heat because, unlike the other HUD houses on the road, it was covered with black tar paper—the siding had never been put on—and there were no shade trees, not even a bush to block the sun. There was an old lightning-struck cottonwood in the front yard, a charred skeleton of a tree that offered no shade at all until my mother got into the habit of hanging beer cans from its charred branches with fishing line. The beer cans—there were hundreds of them, and more than a dozen new ones being added each day—would make a peaceful clanking when a breeze came up, but they never did much to keep the house cool.

    When the mailman stopped in front of our house that day my mother was in the cave-like darkness of the kitchen polishing off breakfast (four Pabst Blue Ribbons and half a way of ice cubes) and Grandma Paul was out back under the bear grass ramada in her traditional skirt and Mickey Mouse sweatshirt, grinding acorns and managing not to perspire. I was outside somewhere poking around in the weeds by the side of the road, or maybe wreaking havoc on a hill of fire ants—I guess it doesn't really matter where I was or what I was doing.

    What matters is that the mailman, a small bird-boned man with sweaty orange hair that looked like the inside of a pumpkin, put his jeep into park and went to have a word with my mother. What matters is that during the time he was gone, something—God only knows what—compelled me to crawl under that jeep. Maybe I saw something intriguing under there—a page from a catalogue or a stray hubcap—or maybe the purple rectangle of shadow under the jeep seemed like a good place to cool off. I have to wonder: is it possible that seven-year-old Edgar, with his perpetually drunk and heartsick mother and his disappeared father—not to mention his crazy witch of a grandmother—might have considered suicide? Is it possible that Edgar, seven years old and tired of it all, simply laid down his head under the tire of that jeep and waited?

    From the little I know of my life until then, it's not a possibility I could rule out entirely. Even with my less-than-ideal childhood, one of the small regrets I carry around with me is that huge parts of that boy are lost to me forever; I have a broken, leaking memory of him at best. I guess this wouldn't bother most people—who remembers what seven years old was like anyway?—but for me, obsessed with memory, with facts, with history on the smallest scale, obsessed not only with the whys but the simple whos and whats and wheres, it is a nagging absence, like the gap a knocked-out tooth leaves. I know more about total strangers than I do about seven-year-old Edgar; I'll never know what his favorite TV commercial was or where he hid all the worthless knickknacks he collected or what he feared most when he had to visit the shithouse in the middle of the night. I'll never know why he crawled under that jeep.

    I do know, though, what happened when the bird-boned mailman got back behind the steering wheel of his mail jeep, released the emergency brake and stepped on the accelerator. When he felt the jeep labor against some resistance—maybe he thought it was a bump or a rock in the road—he gave it a little more juice. The back end of the jeep rose up sharply, dropped back down, and the engine died. The mailman got out to investigate and when he saw my little body under the bumper of the jeep, my face mashed into the gravel of the road, blood already seeping among the shards of black rock as if welling up from a place deep underground, he screamed so loud that the dogs in the vicinity, most of them hairless renegades used to the worst and loudest kinds of shouting and drunken argument, howled in terror.

    Along the street only a few people came out of their houses, holding their arms against the sun. Grandma Paul took her time picking her way around the woodpile and up to the road: she knew someone was dead or dying, it was just a matter of finding out who. She saw five or six people crowded around and a few more coming out of their houses and she decided it had to be a pretty bloody disaster to bring people out on a day like this. Even a couple of huge, roadkill-fattened crows had landed in the beer-tree to see what was going on.

    "Goddamn mail guy's run over somebody's kid," said big Emerson Tuskogie to nobody in particular, sucking down the last of his Coke through a straw. Emerson Tuskogie was well known on the reservation as somebody who held the government responsible for everything.

    By the time Grandma Paul had made it to the scene, ten or twelve people were looking down at the sobbing mailman, who had rolled me over onto my back and taken off his shirt, which he held around my head in an attempt to stop the blood from seeping out of my ears.

    When the mailman realized he couldn't stem the bleeding with only his flimsy government-issue shirt, he took off his pants—an almost impossible task the way his hands were shaking—and pressed them around my head as if he might somehow keep the blood inside where it belonged. Everyone stared at his fiery hair and mayonnaise-colored skin, which seemed to be glowing, putting off a light of its own.

    "Ambulance?!" he cried, looking around wildly. Old Oonie Neal had already sent her grandson off to call the tribal police, but nobody bothered to say a word.

    The mailman put his ear to my chest, heard nothing, then looked into my eyes, the whites of which had turned a stark demon-red from the capillaries bursting under all that pressure. He looked up into the sun as if he might find some kind of answer there, but this seemed to disorient him even more. Finally, still holding my head in its bundle of clothes, he lowered his mouth over mine and began breathing into me, even though my lungs and respiratory system were fine—it was my head that was the problem.

    "Ambulance'll be coming," someone said, but the mailman kept on, blowing into me with everything he had. Blood gargled up out of my throat, making it difficult to get any air into me at all.

    Emerson Tuskogie politely tapped the nearly naked mailman on the shoulder and said, "Kid's dead."

    Everybody pretty much agreed with Emerson on this point, even Grandma Paul; you don't run over some kid's head with a mail jeep and hope to keep him going with a little CPR.

    The crows looked down and seemed to whisper between themselves, the sun burned and the poor mailman had nothing left to do but kneel on the sharp rocks in the incomplete shade of the beer-tree, half naked and shuddering, his face covered with tears and snot, his mouth rimmed with my blood, holding his clothes around my head, waiting for the ambulance to come and take me away.


THE RODEO


I DON'T BLAME my mother for not coming out of the house that day. When she heard the mailman scream she knew, just like Grandma Paul, that something terrible had happened and she didn't want anything to do with it. She stayed in her chair at the kitchen table and didn't move, didn't even stand up to stretch her legs until late that night when there was no longer anyone around who would fetch her a beer. From all that I know about her, my mother never was the kind of person who liked to confront things head-on; she was always standing back, protecting herself. It's one of the reasons she drank so much beer—if you drink enough of it, beer can protect you from anything.

    Until she became pregnant with me my mother had never tasted beer or alcohol of any kind. Grandma Paul's father and brother and both her sons had all died as a result of alcohol in one way or another and she forbade Gloria, her last living child, to touch the stuff. My mother obeyed Grandma without question—never even had a drop—until she was eighteen years old. It would take becoming pregnant with me to turn her into the dedicated alcoholic she would be for the rest of her life.

    "She was a good girl," Grandma Paul used to say, "and then she met the white guy."

    The white guy was my father, Arnold Kessler Mint. Arnold Mint was a would-be cowboy, and fittingly enough, he met my mother at a rodeo. He was only a spectator at the rodeo, though he had aspirations of becoming a bronc-busting star, and my mother was selling cotton candy in the grandstands. This was up north in Holbrook, where my mother was living with her cousin Lily for the summer, trying to get away from Grandma Paul and the dusty desolation of San Carlos and hoping to make a little money in the meantime. She was eighteen and probably not prepared for someone as good-looking and charmingly dumb as Arnold Kessler Mint.

    After seeing my mother, the first thing Arnold did was buy all the cotton candy she had in her tray. He had just finished a two-month stint on a sheep ranch in Luna, New Mexico, his wallet was fat with bills, and he was working on growing a respectable mustache. He gave my mother a ten-dollar bill, lifted all the cotton candy out of the tray, and squeezed it to his chest in a great bear hug. He looked around, unsure what to do next, then took a big chomp out of the mound in his arms—a long wisp sticking to his chin, making him look like Uncle Sam on the I WANT YOU FOR THE U.S. ARMY poster—and said to everybody around him, "Boy, I love cotton candy!" This was his way of trying to impress my mother. My mother handed Arnold Kessler Mint his change and went back to the concession stand to pick up more cotton candy. When she had a new supply she went to the far side of the grandstands, as far away from Arnold as she could get, but he spotted her and waved his money in the air like a hankie.

    Arnold Mint was trying his best to be the big, brash, the-hell-with-the-rest-of-you cowboy he had always wanted to be. He was originally from Lebanon, Connecticut, about as far away from cowboy country as you can get. He had come out West two years before, thinking he could hitch on with some outfit and become a carefree whistling buckaroo in no time flat—he'd read the comic books and every Zane Grey novel he could get his hands on, signed up for the John Wayne fan club and watched all the shoot-em-ups on TV; he believed he was ready and qualified to start punching cattle. No, it didn't go the way he planned. He spent his first eighteen months in Arizona washing toilets and hauling horse carcasses for a dog food factory. There simply wasn't a pack of ranchers falling over each other to hire an Easterner with corduroy pants and a funny accent. Finally, two months before meeting my mother, Arnold, in spite of his corduroy pants, had got a shearing job with a desperate sheep rancher and now that the job was over, here he was at the Navajo County Rodeo, feeling pretty good about himself with money in his pockets (he had already spent thirteen dollars of it on a mouse-gray Stetson cowboy hat), an armful of cotton candy and designs on my mother.

    If Arnold had been a true cowboy he probably wouldn't have looked twice at my mother. Among cowboys—white ones, anyway—you kept to your own kind. Hispanic or Asian girls were okay for a one-nighter, but Indian girls, or Big Reds as most cowboys called them, were pretty much out of the question. According to under-the-hat barstool cowboy lore, Indian women had the unholy power to get themselves impregnated with your sperm one hundred percent of the time, whether you wore a condom or not. This little bit of hoodoo-voodoo, more than anything else, is often what—at least in terms of romance—kept the cowboys away from the Indians.

    But to Arnold Kessler Mint, who wasn't yet aware of these cowboy codes, an eighteen-year-old raven-haired Apache girl must have been the most exotic thing he could imagine. My mother marched up and down the steps trying to ignore Arnold, but the thick-necked guy in the new cowboy hat (there was still a tag hanging off the brim) would not give up. He waggled his money in the air, whistling and hollering for more cotton candy. By now he was so covered with the fluffy pink and blue stuff he looked like a huge baby bird just out of its shell.

    Nobody had ever given my mother such attention, especially not in public and with two thousand people looking on. She didn't know what to do, so she wandered up and down the grandstand steps, trying to hide behind the remaining puffs in her tray.

    Arnold bided his time until the call came over the loudspeakers for amateur bull riders. Anybody who had the desire could try their luck on an old worn-out bull named Wicked Joseph. A rider who could manage to stay on for the required ten seconds would win a fifty-dollar gift certificate from the B&B Williams Tack and Feed Store. Besides Arnold, the only other person who took the challenge was a fat teenage kid in a too-tight T-shirt who appeared to be drunk; he pumped his knees and shook his butt as he went down the steps, which made the considerable fat contained in his shirt jiggle and heave. Everybody in the stands clapped and hooted and agreed there's not much that can beat a fat drunk kid for entertainment. Not to be outdone, Arnold promenaded down the steps, kicking his heels and throwing his hips around like a belly dancer—but the drunk fat kid had been much funnier, so only one or two people bothered to give Arnold any encouragement.

    The fat teenager went first and he fell off the bull—right into a fresh puddle of cow shit—before he made it out of the chute. Wicked Joseph never even got a chance to buck; the big gate swung open and the kid slid right off the old bull as if it had been slathered back to front with petroleum jelly. The kid picked himself off the ground, half covered in green, pudding-like bull puckey, raised both chubby fists in victory, and the crowd went crazy for him.

    Undaunted that he was getting one-upped by a fat drunk kid, Arnold got on Wicked Joseph. He stayed on the bull well over the required ten seconds; he stayed on so well that once the horn had sounded, he didn't really want or know how to get off. The old Brahma kept bucking away, his gargantuan balls flailing like cathedral bells between his legs, and Arnold, holding on with two hands now, began to slip slowly off to the side, managing to hang on by wrapping both arms around the bull's neck and squeezing with such conviction that he looked like he was trying to strangle the thing. Wicked Joseph, who was, I imagine, thoroughly annoyed with Arnold's persistence, situated himself in a corner of the ring and began ramming Arnold into a steel livestock gate, which made a boom-boom-boom noise like somebody banging on a battleship with a sledgehammer. Still Arnold hung on, his brand-new, jammed-on hat getting loose from his head, quarters and nickels and dimes zinging out of his pockets, his big round face still caught in that oblivious grin. All around the arena cowboys were standing up on the fence, cussing and shouting, "Let go you idiot!"

    Finally Arnold was rammed into the gate with enough force that his collarbone was broken and he had to relinquish his death grip on poor old Wicked Joseph. Even with the broken bone he hopped right up, looked around and yelled, "Where's my hat?" An exhausted Wicked Joseph galloped a wide U-turn and made a halfhearted attempt at goring Arnold in the back, but Arnold spotted him and scrambled through the slats in the fence. This time the crowd was duly appreciative; Arnold got a standing ovation.

    After locating his hat, accepting his fifty-dollar certificate and having his shoulder inspected by the on-site doctor, who told him to get his crazy ass to a hospital as soon as possible, Arnold tracked down my mother near the concession stand. He stood next to her, his face still flushed from his bull-riding triumph. She tried not to look at him while she waited for the concessions manager to count out her pay; she had seen him ride the bull and thought he was a lunatic.

    He cleared his throat like he was preparing for a speech. "I'd—hah—I'd like to ask you a favor, you know, help out a guy a little," he said.

    Arnold took off his hat, which had been destroyed by one of Wicked Joseph's hooves, peered at it for a second and put it back on his head, where it clung like a clump of old moss. He pointed to his broken right shoulder, which slumped a good two or three inches below his left. "Looks like I broke my shoulder bone here and I was wondering what would be the chances of you helping me out. My rig's got a manual transmission and I need someone to help me shift so's I can make it to the hospital. The doctor over there with the hair sticking out his ears said I could do some damage to myself if I don't get there this very instant."

    Arnold was doing his very damnedest to sound like a cowboy.

    This time my mother glared at him with her oily-black eyes, hoping to scare him off, but Arnold Kessler Mint was not the kind of person who knew how to take a hint. He pressed on: "Anyhow, I got this gift certificate—it's worth fifty dollars and I'll give it to you if you'd help me out." He paused, rubbing his bad shoulder. He couldn't stop smiling. Finally, he said, "Fifty dollars is a lot of money."

    My mother didn't take long to decide; even though she thought Arnold was the strangest person she'd ever met, fifty dollars was a lot of money, more than she would make in her three days at the rodeo. She thought of the dresses she could buy, the nice shoes—she thought about getting herself a pair of sunglasses like Marilyn Monroe wore in Some Like It Hot. My poor mother wasn't aware that the gift certificate was for a feed and tack store.

    With his good arm, Arnold guided my mother out to the parking lot, opened the door to his old, dented Ford, and helped her in. Down the road they went: Arnold, my father, worked the pedals and the steering wheel and Gloria, my mother, shifted. Exactly nine months and two days later I was born.


THE AMBULANCE


A GLOWING-WHITE mailman weeping over a boy with a broken head leaking blood and spinal fluid out of his ears, a throng of Apaches standing back at a safe distance, an old grandmother off to the side in the hackberry, already beginning her funeral wail, two fat crows in a tree full of blue-and-white cans presiding over it all: this is the scene Ed and Horace Natchez, twin brothers and tribal ambulance volunteers, came upon when they pulled up in the makeshift reservation ambulance. Ed and Horace lived only a quarter of a mile from Grandma Paul's house, and they were pissed off that there hadn't been enough open road for them to really get that ambulance hauling ass.

    It should be noted that what Ed and Horace were riding in was not a true ambulance. It was actually a huge black Dodge van the tribal police had recently confiscated from a group of German hippies who had been caught selling marijuana from the side of the highway. Nobody had gotten around to painting it yet, and there was no money in the budget to outfit it with modern emergency equipment. All it had was an oxygen tank, an emergency field kit no bigger than a bass fisherman's tackle box, and a World War II army stretcher someone had found in the cellar of the elementary school. It wasn't much, but as could be said about most things on the reservation, it was better than nothing.

    Ed and Horace had only minimal training, so when they got their first good look at me, they came to the same conclusion everybody else had: the boy with the mailman's clothes wadded around his head was a goner. They didn't even bother with any pulse-taking or pupil-checking, they simply pried the mailman's hands away from the boy's shoulder and gently put the limp body on the stretcher, which, in its time, might have transported wounded boys on the battlefields of France or Okinawa.

    "Hey, will you guys bring me back a pack of Pall Malls from Globe?" Emerson Tuskogie asked. Emerson had to shout to be heard over Grandma Paul's wailing.

    "Don't got no money!" Ed shouted back.

    Emerson began digging through his pockets for change while Ed and Horace got the stretcher situated in the back of the van.

    Horace took the clothes from around the dead boy's head and handed the bloody clump to the mailman, who knelt in the gravel, his face gone blank.

    "You don't want to get sunburned," Horace told him.

    Ed shut the heavy rear door of the van and Emerson said, "Damn, I only got thirty-five cents."

    Off in the mesquite bushes, Grandma Paul's praying got even louder. She prayed to Jesus, and to Yusen, god of all living things, and to the ghosts of the dead. She prayed not that I would survive, but that I would find my way through the perils of the afterlife, that I would be free from the wily clutches of the devil and make my way home to Jesus. Grandma Paul wailed and prayed and paused only for a second to watch as Ed and Horace got into their seats, slammed the van's big black doors and started out over the damaged reservation roads, carrying me away into a strange new life.


THE RESURRECTION OF EDGAR


FOR ME, IT'S a little hard to accept—my own death and I have no recollection of it. Like most of what occurred in the first seven years of my life, I'll have to take someone else's word that it ever happened.

    All I can say for certain is that at some point between the time the tire flattened my head and I was wheeled into the tiny emergency room of St. Divine's Hospital in Globe, I stopped living. My ravaged brain threw in the towel and my other vital organs gave in shortly thereafter. My heart quivered to a stop, my lungs shut down and I became an inanimate object; just as alive or dead as a cereal bowl or a park bench.

(Continues...)


Excerpted from THE MIRACLE LIFE OF EDGAR MINT by BRADY UDALL. Copyright © 2001 by Brady Udall. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.


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Table of Contents

Saint Divine's 11
Willie Sherman 97
Richland 237
Stony Run 389
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Reading Group Guide

1. “If I could tell you only one thing about my life it would be this: when I was seven years old the mailman ran over my head. As formative events go, nothing else comes close; my careening, zigzag existence, my wounded brain and faith in God, my collisions with joy and affliction, all of it has come, in one way or another, out of that moment on a summer morning when the left rear tire of a United States postal jeep ground my tiny head into the hot gravel of the San Carlos Apache Indian Reservation” [p.13]. How does the novel’s opening paragraph—and more broadly its opening chapter—work to draw the reader into the story? How does the immediacy of the first-person narration affect the reader’s involvement with Edgar and his story?

2. Edgar’s mother doesn’t even get up from the kitchen table when he is run over by the mail truck [p. 16]. Why is Edgar so forgiving of her, even though she abandons him and effectively kills herself with alcohol? Does she provoke any sympathy in the reader?

3. Edgar’s father is a young white man from Connecticut who has come west in the hope of becoming a cowboy. Is it surprising that Edgar never meets or even tries to find his real father? Which characters take on parental roles in his life?

4. On arriving at Willie Sherman, Edgar overhears Principal Whipple say, “The last thing I need right now is another goddamn orphan without any paperwork.” In response to hearing the word “orphan, ” Edgar thinks, “It comforted me to understand my place in the world, to put a name to it” [p. 107]. Is it useful to see The Miracle Life of Edgar Mint as anexample of the classic genre of orphan novels, like Dickens’ Great Expectations? How loosely or tightly structured is The Miracle Life of Edgar Mint? What are the driving forces behind the novel’s plot?

5. What is the effect of the chapter called “Edgar Gets It, ” which is Edgar’s and the reader’s introduction to life at Willie Sherman. Why are violence and sadism so casual here? What effect does the school have on Edgar’s behavior? What changes does he make in himself in order to survive?

6. Edgar is “obsessed with memory, with facts, with history on the smallest scale” [p. 14]. He makes daily use of the typewriter Art has given him. What does language do for Edgar? Why is it so necessary for him to write down what happens to him?

7. What does Edgar’s friendship with Cecil mean to him? If thinking about and writing to Cecil have become some of Edgar’s few emotional lifelines, what is the significance of the events that occur when he makes his visit to the juvenile detention center [pp. 301–309]?

8. Note that Udall’s use of narrative point of view often switches between first and third person [see, for instance, the first two paragraphs on page 215]. Why does he choose to do this? Who is telling the story?

9. What does Sterling Yakezevitch represent to Edgar? Why does Edgar say to himself, “I was just like Sterling Yakezevitch. I knew it, but nobody else seemed to” [p. 193]? What is the significance of “the jumping place” for Edgar and for Sterling?

10. Udall does a superb job of incorporating the landscape of the West into the story. What are the scenes in which the landscape plays an important role? How does the landscape affect the moods and meanings of the novel? Is there any significance to the fact that Edgar ends up in Pennsylvania, far from his Apache homeland?

11. How well does Edgar fit into the Madsen family? Does he have a chance for happiness there? Why does he leave, and is he right to do so?

12. Barry Pinkley’s role in the story evolves over the course of Edgar’s life. Edgar says, “Like Dr. Frankenstein who gave the monster life, I think Barry felt a kind of ownership toward me, a responsibility” [p. 25]. Does Barry’s history as a foster child explain his behavior? Edgar also says, “Barry was a mystery to me . . . I knew that he loved me, in his own way, more than anyone in my life ever had” [p. 347]. Despite Barry’s constant attention and love, why does Edgar reject him as a possible adoptive parent? What compels Edgar to perform his ultimate act of rejection? Is it shocking or unsurprising that he does so?

13. Edgar says, “God was out there. He had touched me and I had felt His presence, which was more than I could say about my own father.” But he also believes that “either God was a crazed lunatic or He was just plain mean” [p. 311]. How important is religion in this novel?

14. Edgar is a child with no home and almost no belongings. What particular objects take on meaning for him? What is the significance of the objects that are given and received in friendship in this story? What is the significance of his trunk?

15. How significant for Edgar’s story is the fact that he is half Apache? What does the novel tell us about racial discrimination and its effect on Native Americans? How interested is Udall in bringing the reader’s attention to the problems bequeathed to the Native American population?

16. There is much in The Miracle Life of Edgar Mint that is bleak—suicide, alcoholism, drug addiction, physical suffering, emotional deprivation. Which aspects or episodes of the novel are the most difficult for the reader from an emotional perspective? How does Udall manage to keep the mood so light, comical, and life-affirming?

17. Apart from his brilliance as an inventor of character and plot, what aspects of Udall’s writing style are most impressive? Are there particular sentences or paragraphs that are especially moving, effective, or funny?

18. Edgar’s lifelong quest is to relieve the postman of guilt, to bring him the good news of his survival. “I imagined him with his white skin, his orange hair and blue uniform . . . transformed in an instant from a man twisted inside out with guilt and grief to someone struck with the realization that our worst mistakes can be retrieved, that death can be traded in for life, that what has been destroyed can be made whole again” [p. 312]. Why does Udall deny him this wish? Is finding a long-lost mother in Rosa a good enough substitute for his original wish? What are the ironies of the novel’s ending?

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 39 )
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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 39 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted November 5, 2007

    A pleasant surprise!

    'A patient of mine recommended this book. It sat on my shelf for about 2 years as it is not the normal type of book I read. I picked it up 3 days ago and I wish I had picked it up sooner. What a pleasant surprise. The story will take you through a gamet of emotions: sadness, anger, frustration, and joy. At times I laughed out loud and at other times my eyes welled up with tears. The story of Edgar makes us appreciate what we all have. The author did a good job of portraying the strength of the human spirit. I don't read a lot of John Irving but other reviews I've read have compared Udall's writing to Irving. If you're a fan of Irving you might want to give Udall a try.'

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 21, 2004

    This book is why people read in the first place- to feel good!!

    This was a fabulous book that I could just not put down! It gives a fabulous escape into the world of this poor, spunky, adolescent. Edgar's life is so tragic, yet Udall puts it in a way that is humorous and admirable. Udall proves he truly is a genius with this work. I fell in love with Edgar and looked forward to seeing where is miracle life would take him. It was a joy to turn every page- I last read it over a year ago, and I am still raving to everyone about it. In short, it is just a feel-good novel. It makes you happier when you close the pages.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 25, 2003

    Edgar, Meet Lily

    I read this awesome book right after finishing 'The Secret Life of Bees,' and I would love to write a story wherein Lily and Edgar meet one day and compare notes. The two novels, at first read, seem at opposite ends of the literary spectrum. Yet when I finished 'Edgar,' I was struck by the parallel themes of young lives frought with trial and tribulation, yet imbued with inner cores of strength, determination, hope, wisdom, and humor! Neither Edgar nor Lily give up their quest to get back 'home,' even if home is someplace they don't yet know, and that has been there all along. Absolutely fantastic!! I'm a bookseller at a B&N store and put it on my 'Staff Recommends' shelf. It sold out very quickly!

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 29, 2012

    An exceptionally enjoyable story!

    I definately recommend this book! It is a bittersweet journey of a boy to manhood and although there are many sad parts throughout the story, the ending makes it well worth the time you spend reading it.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 10, 2012

    Pretty Good

    I read The Lonely Polygamist by Udall and really liked it, so I was excited to read this novel. It was a good read, could be funny at times, but did seem to drag on a little. Not my favorite, but pretty good over all.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 17, 2011

    My Favorite Book of All Time

    I'm puzzled by some of the negative reviews stating that all Edgar does is get abused, not really, but the abuse is seen through the eyes of Edgar, whose innate goodness sees things in such touching and hysterical ways. A great story by a world class storyteller. Cant recommend this book any higher 4000 stars

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 8, 2011

    Different

    Edgar Mint was a half- Indian boy growing up during the 1960s and 1970s. As a young child, his head had been run over by a mail truck but he miraculously survived and still had a fully functioning brain. Edgar's childhood and adolescence following this incident are what make the story so original. How he goes from attending a rough boarding school to living with a Mormon family is truly one of a kind. Not to mention that there is a shocker at the end.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 13, 2010

    Grabs You from the Beginning

    This book is one of the most interesting and entertaining I've read in a long, long time. Sometimes it made me laugh out loud. Other times it made me squirm. The experiences Edgar goes through during his life and the way he handles them will keep you riveted from beginning to end.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 5, 2008

    I loved this book

    This was a beautifully written story. I laughed and cried through his adventures. It was definitely a page turner!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 26, 2005

    This is funny?!

    All I can say is I'm glad I didn't actually buy this book. Yes, there were a few funny parts but for the most part, it was a terrible, depressing story of abuse to a young man not able to defend himself well. The real problem I have with this book is that it went on and on, chapter after chapter describing the abuse poor Edgar had to endure. Mr. Udall, I think we could've gotten the idea after one chapter. This is where I chucked the book. I know, I know, it may have had a very happy ending but I wasn't willing to go through torture myself to get to it. At least the book went into my recycle bin and will do the earth some good in some way.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 3, 2003

    I laughed out loud many many times

    It was fun meeting Edgar and spending time with him. I'll miss him. Not often is it that you find a character as comfortable with which to spend time...

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 30, 2002

    A great read

    This book is a wonderful read. The characters are beautifully drawn. The scenes are very well set. Edgar Mint is an unforgettable character. This book is by turns hilarious, sad, uplifting, tragic, and inspiring. Not since Dickens has there been such a wonderful orphan-hero.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 14, 2010

    too many other good books to spend time on this one

    story about a long-suffering boy is depressing and drags on.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 10, 2003

    A GOOD READ

    I really liked this one! The main character is so well-developed that you feel like you really know him. The plot was believable and the situations were humorous and tragic at the same time. I highly recommend this book!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 8, 2002

    Soft heart for Edgar Mint...

    From the moment I met Edgar Mint my heart became as soft as 'poor little' Edgar's head after being run over by a Mail Jeep. I became overly critical of the trials and tribulations Udall foists upon Edgar during the Willie Sherman years, but in the end the miracle of Edgar wins. I believe that if Udall's Edgar Mint and Irving's Owen Meany ever met, they would look at each other and say, 'Brother!!' I have and will continue to recommend this book.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 31, 2002

    this book ran over my head

    A very quick, enjoyable read. Its quite easy to identify with Edgar and his squashed head, although most of us won't survive a head on encounter with a jeep. I highly recommend.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted April 23, 2002

    (Mostly) terrific!

    I read this after hearing the author on NPR and was mostly captivated by this book. It is one of those novels in which reality is somewhat suspended for the sake of creating interesting and odd characters... but still, Udall is a fabulous writer, Edgar a loveable character, his adventures mostly are interesting. For me, the Sherman school part went on too long, but the novel redeemed itself in the funny section re: the Mormon foster home. One thing I found VERY irritating was the way the author switched between the first and third tenses... but overall, a really original and enjoyable novel.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 5, 2002

    A story with humor, hope and lots and lots of heart!

    Brady Udall's coming-of-age story about a young half-Indian boy's struggle to survive, grow and emerge intact sucks you in and never lets you go. Edgar Presley Mint manages to maintain a sense of hope (and humor) throughout his sometimes pathetic, often painful, but ultimately successful childhood. Edgar's ability to understand and take with him the best of the life lessons imparted by his various 'saviors' could be his deliverance, but it is far more likely that it is his capacity to avoid bitterness and despair at these well-meaning, but imprudent, attempts to save his life

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 14, 2002

    excellent!

    the story pulls you in-- you really want to know what happens to this kid. if you like john irving, you'll like this too. i read it in one day!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 17, 2001

    Will make you laugh and cry.

    A great story that just keeps you hanging on for more. A one night read that makes you want even more in the end. Brady Udall has a wonderful follow up to his great short story book, Letting Loose the Hounds.

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 39 Customer Reviews

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