"An ingenious tale [that] takes its heart from Dickens and its soul from America’s great outlaw West." —Elle
Half Apache and mostly orphaned, Edgar Presley Mint’s trials begin on an Arizona reservation at the age of seven, when the mailman’s jeep accidentally runs over his head. As he is shunted from the hospital to a school for delinquents to a Mormon foster family, comedy, pain, and trouble accompany Edgar through a string of larger-than-life experiences. Through it all, readers will root for this irresistible innocent who never truly loses heart and whose quest for the mailman leads him to an unexpected home.
Reminiscent of another debut Ken Kesey's One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest this powerful first novel by short story writer Udall (Letting Loose the Hounds) is constructed around grotesque set pieces; black humor drives the plot. Set in the late '60s, Udall's story begins when seven-year-old Edgar Mint, the half-Apache, half-white narrator, is run over by the mailman's car, his head crushed. Abandoned by his grandmother and alcoholic mother after his remarkable recovery, the boy begins an odyssey through various institutions and homes, starting with St. Divine's hospital in Globe, Ariz., where he recuperates, through Willie Sherman's, a horrific school for Indian children, ending up placed with a dysfunctional Mormon family in Richland, Utah. The novel's long middle section, describing Edgar's brutalization at the Indian school by the other kids, captures the effect of what seems like endless bullying on a child's consciousness. Against this hostility, Edgar concocts a homemade magic, which consists mainly of typing on a clunky Hermes typewriter given to him by a fellow St. Divine's patient, Art Crozier, a middle-aged man who has lost his family in a car wreck. One of Udall's best touches is to make the doctor who saved Edgar, Barry Pinkley, into a mysterious and menacing figure, perpetually lurking on the sidelines, rather like Clare Quilty in Lolita. While Pinkley strives maniacally to be Edgar's guardian angel, the boy views him with ambivalent loathing. When Pinkley, disguised as a Mormon missionary, seduces Lana Madsen, the wife in the Mormon family that takes Edgar in, he sets off the final catastrophe in the boy's life. Udall's style is reminiscent of the '60s black humorists, but he doesn't share their easy cruelty or inveterate superciliousness, making this not only an accomplished novel, but a wise one.
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Thoroughly entertaining and original
Read it a few months ago, and it has stuck with me