I like unrelenting dark novels with an overriding bleak vision that lacks moral certitudes (I mean, who doesn’t?).
Novels that deal with an insistent dark side but are laced with that warm and fuzzy fullness that breathes a certain moralistic sense into the world—a sense that things can work out for the character and for society in general—those I like even more. I’m a sucker for the novel that courageously pushes forward to conclude with hope and optimism.
The Miracle Life of Edgar Mint is such a novel. It is a heartbreaking, but ultimately glorious, work about a seven-year-old boy who is run over by a mail truck and abandoned by his Apache mother and deadbeat, cowardly Anglo-Saxon father. Through sheer courage, strength, and resiliency, the narrator, Edgar Mint, survives often sparse and harsh conditions, taking nourishment from friendships wherever he can find them.
There are times when it’s difficult to keep reading, your heart breaking for Edgar. However, Udall’s gift is his ability to allow Edgar to tell his story with utter and complete sincerity, both from the adult’s and the child’s perspective. Udall’s attention to detail poignantly sheds light on not just his characters but the human condition itself. Edgar is a lovable, loyal, and brave boy in the face of extreme adversity. His insightfulness, sincerity, and even humor drives the story. Immediately, he takes you right to the heart of things.
“. . . when I was seven years old the mailman ran over my head. As formative years 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 to come, 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.”
I could go on with quotes from the narrator, Edgar, because he has such an astute, yet wholly sincere way of putting things without the reader ever feeling as if he is being heavy-handed or unnecessarily sentimental. Levity always exists and informs, even as Edgar is abandoned by his grandmother and alcoholic mother, bullied at a horrific school for Indian children, and placed in the foster care of a dysfunctional Mormon family.
The Miracle Life of Edgar Mint takes us down a lane of bleakness but exits us on a street of anticipation, even if it’s a narrow one, and renews our faith in the resiliency and triumph of the human spirit. And ultimately, by the last page, we feel that love and hope have a fighting chance in life’s mythic, overarching struggles. This is no small accomplishment, and The Miracle Life of Edgar Mint is no small book.