Vintage Books, 2001
As I read this book I had a running conversation with myself about why I read because this book baffled me. It wasn’t gripping. It wasn’t boring. It wasn’t inspiring. It wasn’t without inspiration. It wasn’t instructive. It wasn’t without small slices of insight.
The story was narrated by Edgar Mint as he recounted his life beginning with being an unwanted baby born to an Indian mother on an Arizona reservation and a visiting Pennsylvania wannabe cowboy passing through. One unfortunate, well, closer to tragic, event after another scoots the boy Edgar through his childhood.
His story begins when he is seven and is accidentally run over by a mailman’s truck. From that pivotal event, which landed him in the hospital for an extended stay, his life unfolds. It is not a gentle unfolding as he realizes his physical problems and that he has lost contact with his mother, but he comes to a peace and comfort of sorts within a substandard medical system where he is roommates with three men. It’s not expected life will get any easier for an abandoned, physically damaged half-Indian boy, and it doesn’t.
Through the hospital stay, a horrific time in a reservation school, and a confusing time living in a middle-class Mormon household, he meets an assortment of colorful, good, bad, and ugly characters. As I moved through the book with my running background conversation about why I read, I finally settled on why I finished this book.
Edgar himself is a lovable, little guy who I didn’t want to abandon to the odd collection of Udall’s characters. He deserved more. He deserved a safe place to sleep, good food, clean clothes, an education, and people who cared, because through it all, Edgar maintained a child-like, innocent view of the world that very, very slowly propelled the story’s action.
Edgar wanted to do right by people. That included a visit to a Nevada juvenile detention center where a friend was sent after standing up for Edgar in a fight. Then, following up on his inspiration to find the mailman who ran over him, Edgar wanted to tell him he was forgiven for hurting him. Those are expansive gestures for a by then teenager to plan.
Udall’s style, the tone he used, his excellent similes, and his young protagonist very deftly shows a life that may be all too possible among Native Americans. He tells it through the eyes of a child with a generous spirit who must and does make his way through the actions and intentions of whatever strange adults surround him, and in the end gives himself a miracle life.