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Sent on Mormon-News: 27Jun01

By Kent Larsen

Brady Udall's New Novel Looks at an Indian in Mormondom

SALT LAKE CITY, UTAH -- LDS author Brady Udall's new novel "The Miracle Life of Edgar Mint" was called a "A witty, wise and heartwrenching tale of a naive orphan's struggle to survive an often unforgiving world" in the Salt Lake Tribune last week. The novel tells the story of an indian youth as he moves through an Arizona reservation into an LDS foster family and into adulthood. But Udall, who says he is an active LDS Church member, says he didn't write the novel for the Mormon audience, and that some Mormons may be uncomfortable with it.

The story's main character, Edgar Mint, is the bastard son of a rebellious Apache girl. Edgar is severely injured when a mailman's jeep runs over his head at age 7. While his mother abandons him for dead, a doctor at a local hospital revives him, and Edgar is put into a reservation boarding school. There two LDS missionaries meet him and find him an LDS foster home in Utah.

The doctor who revived him later finds Edgar and helps him meet the mailman, who is still in anguish over the accident, believing he killed Edgar, but after relieving his anguish, Edgar still has a difficult life with his foster Mormon family. He discovers that the family also has it problems, from marital infidelity to a sexually curious teenage daughter, and is himself troubled, lying, stealing and even committing a murder, although the Tribune's Brandon Griggs calls it "an arguably merciful one."

The novel has received critical praise in early reviews, including Kirkus Reviews, which called the book "a remarkably assured debut novel that brings to life a unique world. A bit of a miracle in its own right" and from novelist Tony Earley who said, "If Dickens had been born in Arizona, he might have written a book like this." Udall says, however, that he is uncomfortable with the comparison to Dickens, "That's a little much for me. I think that's just because there's an orphan in it." But the reviews have also led to an option purchased by the Hollywood film production company owned by REM lead singer Michael Stripe.

Udall comes from a Mormon background, growing up in rural St. John's, Arizona as part of the well-known family that included Arizona politicians Morris and Stewart Udall. He traces his writing career to winning a poetry contest at age 12. A BYU graduate, he went on to attend the prestigious Iowa Writers Workshop and in 1998 published his first book, "Letting Loose the Hounds," a short-story collection that won him a job at Franklin and Marshall College in Southeastern, Pennsylvania. He will start a teaching position at Southern Illinois University this Fall.

But Brady doesn't want to be pigeonholed as a Mormon author, "This is not because I am embarrassed by my faith and culture, but because I am working hard to create the kind of art my culture seems set on rejecting," he says. "We, as a people, have always been a bit immature when it comes to art. We have always been threatened by anything that doesn't fit squarely within our system of belief. Good art will always be complex, contradictory and will resist easy judgment -- all things that would make any good Mormon nervous."

And he admits that at least some Mormons may be offended at the way Mormons are portrayed in "The Miracle Life of Edgar Mint," "I can see a lot of Mormon people might be upset by the way that family is portrayed. I don't mean to offend anybody, but I think sometimes it's kind of necessary. It's high time somebody out there, if not me, wrote about Mormons in a real and honest way."

But Griggs says that readers are more likely to root for Edgar Mint than get offended at the failings of Udall's Mormon characters, "it will make them root for the scruffy boy with the lumpy head and a profound longing for a home he has never known," writes Griggs. And Udall believes that in the end his novel is redemptive, "It sounds corny, but this book has some spiritual aspect to it. There's power in accepting who you are, in finding the place you belong instead of the place people tell you that you belong."


Udall Mints a Dickens of a Tale in 'Miracle Life'
Salt Lake Tribune 17Jun01 A2
By Brandon Griggs: Salt Lake Tribune


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