An Unforgettable Main Character
I knew I was reading a good book when I'd find myself wanting to sneak away from people or tasks at hand to curl up with Brady Udall's The Miracle Life of Edgar Mint in a private room. I finished the last pages of the novel in Grants Pass, Oregon a few weeks ago. I was cozily sandwiched between the mattress and layers of colorful comforters J and R had placed in their office for my stay. As Edgar finished his story - typed out completely on his Hermes Jubilee - I felt a wave of bittersweet relief sweep over me. Udall's prose is dazzling but down-to-earth; his characters complex and amusingly idiosyncratic; his similes sumptuous; his bits of descriptive details delightful, like gooey chocolate chips in a warm cookie; and the story an odyssey that makes the reader root for the main character from the first sentence to the very last.
Edgar Mint is deeply troubled, but absolutely charming. Edgar, like me, is a writer, and finds comfort and meaning in words. I found myself wincing and wanting to skip over some parts, as Brady Udall's title character endures violence at the hands of schoolyard bullies, neglect at worst or a twisted kind of self-serving attention at best at the hands of adults all around, and other forms of intense emotional pain. It would stand to reason that this character, abandoned and left to a series of institutions - a hospital, a boarding school for Native American children, and an adoptive family - would act out. And act out he does, as he tries to negotiate a childhood shot through with various difficulties and confusion. In many ways, Edgar has to grow up at much too young an age, whereas in other ways, he remains amusingly unaware of some of the facts of life. The novel had me laughing several times, and close to tears at others.
The incredible circumstances of Edgar's life imbue him with an inadvertant kind of legendary charisma, and this characteristic attracts key people who exert various kinds of lasting influence on his life. At times, Edgar seems to be a mere hapless leaf floating on a frothy, churning river. But at other times, his integrity and other strong personality traits seem to be setting the agenda for his life. When Edgar takes on a purpose for himself, I found myself intensely wanting to see him through in this task, wondering when he'd find the person he is looking for. Edgar's ultimate goal is peace of mind and a sense of belonging. All I'll say is that when he finally reaches his destination, the situation surprises both Edgar and the reader.
The story is stitched together by themes of race relations, multi-culturalism, social and economic class, and the plight of indigenous people. Udall fills the novel with rich details about the conditions of the reservation and boarding school. However, the novel is not at all preachy or overly political, and it lets Edgar's story to speak for itself, allowing the reader to draw her or his own conclusions about the treatment of indigenous Americans.
I'm happy to loan it to any friend who wants to read it next!