Edgar Mint's childhood mission is locating the mailman who ran over his head as a child. He wants to assure him that he's OK.
This mission is the focus of Brady Udall's The Miracle of Edgar Mint. The author's inspiration to write Edgar's story developed from something much less painful than having his head run over, although possibly equally as dramatic.
The peculiar story that gave Udall the framework to work was sparked when his then girlfriend, now wife, revealed she was dating another man. She told him about the other man and how as a child he'd been run over by a mailman. Udall actively sought this man out.
"He thought I was going to beat him up," Udall says.
But he was too interested in his history to hurt him. The other man's story was the inspiration for Edgar's.
The Miracle of Edgar Mint is Udall's first novel, although he has written many short stories.
"The hard part is getting the confidence and figuring it out."
Udall says. "It's a huge investment of time and energy. This book took three and a half years."
That time was spent shaping and perfecting the story of a young boy facing hardships that most would find daunting, yet he perseveres. Run over at 7, Edgar spends months in a hospital until he's sent to live with an uncle he's never met on an Indian reservation and goes to a school where he's tormented daily by classmates. Edgar manages to flee the school to the home of a Mormon family willing to take him in, but his problems continue.
Udall wrote the story in first and third person in part because Edgar's story is so unusual and also because it's a grown Edgar telling us the story of his childhood.
"Edgar is a character in his own story," Udall says. "He's aware he's a character in his own story."
This makes the jumps between reading Edgar's story from his own point of view or from an outside narrator as logical as the jumps between the settings of Edgar's life.
Although some of the locations in The Miracle of Edgar Mint were fictional, others, such as Edgar's school, were real places near where Udall grew up in Arizona. With so many settings for Edgar's experiences, Udall could have done extensive research to get each detail right. Although this is what he started to do, eventually he stopped researching at all.
"Imagination with a few good details is enough, with the right attitude," Udall says. "I like to have the freedom to make it the way I want."
In The Miracle of Edgar Mint, Udall let his imagination run rampant.
"I grew up in a big stable Mormon family, the polar opposite of what Edgar grew up with," he says.
Edgar experiences more turmoil in 10 years than most people do in a lifetime. Still, Udall manages to show the humorous side of otherwise depressing circumstances.
An admirer of the writing of Mark Twain, Udall sees writing comedy as an ultimate achievement.
"It's not easy to take depressing, bleak writing and inject it with humor," he says.
Not easy, perhaps, but that's exactly what he does. For instance, while recovering at the hospital, Edgar is surrounded by people in hopeless situations. And while sad, when he turns to a urinal puck for comfort, there's something darkly comedic about his deodorizing security blanket.
Lightening the mood in what could be a dark story is also Edgar's unabashed motivation to live. As the character himself says in reference to himself and the people he befriends during his hospital stay, "We were broken and afflicted and maybe ... we could make ourselves whole again."
Edgar's mission to locate the mailman from his past seems to be the key to making himself whole. Udall tried to reflect in Edgar the motivation he saw in kids from troubled backgrounds.
"I tried to place myself as a child." Udall says. "I've talked to lots of children. They're not aware that there's an alternative. They don't believe they have a choice."
Unaware, perhaps, that he can do anything but carry on, Edgar keeps going, trying to make himself whole. In so doing, his story becomes an endearing one of survival.
Brady Udall signs and discusses The Miracle Life of Edgar Mint at 7 p.m. June 20 at Joseph-Beth Booksellers in Norwood.