Venue: Arcadia Bar
Date: 15th January 2012
Time: 5pm – 7pm
Discussed: The Miracle Life of Edgar Mint – Brady Udall
Agreed on: Heat Wave – Richard Castle
Our first meeting since before Christmas and it’s felt like aaaaaaaaaagggggggggggeeeeeeeesssssss!
THE BLURB (from BookBrowse)
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.
With these words Edgar Mint, half-Apache and mostly orphaned, makes his unshakable claim on our attention. In the course of Brady Udall’s high-spirited, inexhaustibly inventive novel, Edgar survives not just this bizarre accident, but a hellish boarding school for Native American orphans, a well-meaning but wildly dysfunctional Mormon foster-family, and the loss of most of the illusions that are supposed to make life bearable.
What persists is Edgar’s innate goodness, his belief in the redeeming power of language, and his determination to find and forgive the man who almost killed him. The Miracle Life of Edgar Mint is a miracle of storytelling, bursting with heartache and hilarity and inhabited by characters as outsized as the landscape of the American West.
As is our wont; we got stuck in immediately.
For many of us; this was a book that, though enjoyable in the main, lacked coherency in places. Though there are four distinct sections – hospital, school, family and epilogue – the book occasionally felt lost within its structures rather than securely tethered to them. The descriptions of the geographical locations were rather beautifully realised, and even the oddities of the weather seemed to create a natural environment for Edgar. Switching from the fist to third person was jarring for a few of us, though others found it to be an idiosyncrasies of Edgar’s in line with his injuries. One or two of the clubbers even noted tenuous pattern within its use, but found it tricky to describe.
The majority of us enjoyed the hospital scenes. While the injury itself was grotesque and perhaps a touch ridiculous (the mail man cared so much while Edgar’s own family were disinterested and cold; wrapped up in their own lives. We know that it happens, but it was difficult to process nonetheless); the realities of being the ‘vunderkid’ and hospital darling were well articulated and authentic. The way his fellow patients and nurses responded to him also felt like it could have happened. The mad doctor divided us a bit. While some of us hoped that he was ultimately working for Edgar’s good; others found his behaviour towards the other patients (particularly Art) repugnant and couldn’t warm to him from that point onwards.
Edgar on the other hand was easy to like. He was totally oblivious to the world around him, with social skills that only seemed to develop on an as and when basis – he was capable of compassion and love but had a harder streak within him because of the horrors of his experiences. We loved the motif of the typewriter – gifted to him in the hospital, Edgar uses it throughout the book. Although it is only mentioned here and there it is a link point that resonated with all of us. In the same vein, Art was a positive albeit distant tether. As the story progresses his character more or less disappeared but the memory of him provided Edgar with a faith in the world that all the troubles life threw at him couldn’t shift.
The school years felt like they were floundering a touch to some of the book clubbers. While it was interesting, it was bleak, heartbreakingly so actually. Forget about the story as a whole for a moment, let’s focus on one particular page. In most copies, it was roughly pg105 which featured this truly gross scene that gave a few of us serious ick factors. As one member put it ‘it offended her feminine sensibilities’. We all laughed before a (male) book clubber said that it had the same effect on his feminine sensibilities!
And that was where the writing seemed to let itself down slightly. While the story seemed to follow a particular tone, every now and again there was a scene of incredibly nastiness, cruelty worthy of Chuck Palahniuk that didn’t seem to be either necessary or in tune with the book as a whole.
The friendship and enemies made during those years were poignant and thought provoking for the most part – I was particularly taken by the character with the degenerative disease (I want to say Stirling?) though Nelson seemed very two dimensional in comparison. Given how important his friendship with Cecil was, I was surprised at how quickly he faded from my mind until his tragic conclusion during the third section.
Once again, crazy doctor Barry lurked in the shadows of the school sections. During this phase, his crazy was much easier to identify thought there were humorous moments every now and again – such as the donning of robes and pretending to be a priest that did relieve the misery of those years a touch.
Personally; I found the third section to be the most difficult to swallow. While it is understandable that Edgar would do all he could to escape from the school (and to a lesser extent Barry)I found this section began as almost an advertisement for a particular faith. The family themselves felt quite straightforward – after suffering such a loss, it seemed quite natural to want to take in strays – to pour that displaced love into something else.The interactions with the little know it all son, likewise, had a ring of authenticity. However, the female characters were poorly realised – the daughter and mother both seemed to act very oddly, out of character even as thinly drawn people.
In fact, most of the females within the story were caricatures, with few three dimensional characters. While Edgar’s grandmother had a definite spark; she featured in the book so very little that she was rendered somewhat meaningless. Her daughter was an alcoholic and nothing else, with no hint of a maternal spark or even personality traits beyond her addiction – more than a little frustrating. His adoptive step mother features no better. She is ‘caring’ personified until she decides to engage in an affair with Barry – a lunatic increasingly unable to portray himself in a more lucid fashion. It was feeble and contrived. The male characters that are not drawn out in detail still escape the indignity of such base behaviours throughout the book. Well, I say that, Barry did run over a load of rabbits at one point (no, actually) so I suppose it could have been worse.
We were also somewhat divided as to the epilogue of the book. On the one hand, after such a miserable and hard life, it was pleasant that Edgar found some measure of peace, a home, a family that he cold genuinely connect to.
On the other – what a load of nonsense! The entire book was set up for him to track down the mailman and we find out this? It was like the Wayne’s World super-douper-happy ending covered in sugar, dipped in treacle then deep fried and forced onto a diabetic (ahem, I didn’t buy into it at all…can you tell?).
So, a mixed bag. The writing was solid though and a far few of us would definitely give another book by this author a go in the future. The blurb on the other hand – totally misleading. This book is never fall on floor funny or anything close to it.
Our first book written by a fictional character – I’m excited and afraid all at once!
A tie in with the TV series Castle, this is the first of three Nikki Heat novels ostensibly written by the titular character. (There is also a Derrick Storm novel for fans of the show.)