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The miracle of the word festival

Don Rogers

But I would have done better to follow my first instinct while checking out the cover, reading the summary of the novel on the back and then the first couple of pages. Just not that interested, sadly, I know, in a caricature about adolescence for a poor Indian child in northeastern Arizona that begins with the mailman running over the kid’s head with his jeep.On my own, I perused and put it back on the shelf at Verbatim on at least two visits, turning each time instead to trusted Ed Abbey, the very soul of Western hyperbole. Spare me these pale shadows, these Evian tales of adolescence told through boys who survive head-crushing accidents and deal with the assorted nut cases who come into their lives framed by dead trees festooned with beer cans outside black tarpaper shacks. No sir. Give me Hayduke every time. There’s the red meat, 100 proof. The rest are pretenders, awards and all, to The Man, God rest his desert soul out there somewhere, long since plucked clean.Then I learned that the good folks putting on the Festival of Words, that weekend experience at the Vilar in which real authors come here and discuss writing with we admirers and acolytes, had chosen “Edgar” for a communitywide read, much like Chicago residents were urged to read “To Kill a Mockingbird” awhile back.Seems “Edgar” author Brady Udall is joining this year’s event – which runs Friday through Sunday, by the way. And his latest was chosen out of the works of the six authors participating in the festival. All of them are intriguing: Oscar Casares, with his short stories from the Texas border country; Sandra Dallas, author of “The Persian Pickle Club”; Joseph M. Marshall III, whose first language is Lakota; Diane Smith, who specializes in science and the environment; Udall, who teaches fiction writing at Southern Illinois University when he’s not collecting prizes; and my favorite, Rosemerry Wahtola Trommer of Telluride, who has the touch to make even such a crusty scoffer as me love poetry – as long as she’s the author.”Edgar Mint” is a rite-of-passage story. At least to me it is. The mailman runs him over at age 7. Everyone deserts him, generally by dying. He meets a lot of real strange people through an unrelenting gantlet of bizarre experiences and ends where I won’t tell you. I’m not sure if my reticence about giving away an ending is from taboo, because I think the book ultimately is worth reading, or I’m just cruel enough to want you to take the same journey I felt I had to endure.The writing is outstanding, though I’ll spare you all the “richly detailed,” “evocative” and other blah, blah, blah that reviews reduce themselves to when trying to describe a story without giving it away. Udall did manage to put me in scenes, seeing and feeling right through the words. The characters are memorable, though too blatant for me to believe in them. And the story ultimately hangs together in a way that settles a bit in the soul. There’s some great irony, too.No, the problem is with me. I’m not keen on reliving my adolescence, nevermind the wacky, tragic one Edgar lives. And I’m not sure why the organizers of the festival thought this book would strike a chord in Eagle County, beyond Jeffery Archer (“Rich Man, Poor Man”) wasn’t available.”Edgar Mint” has as much to do with the Vail Valley as blue spruce to slickrock, jet-setter ski resort to Indian boarding school in the Four Corners region. Maybe that’s the point, but it didn’t exactly pierce me.I’m sure there’s plenty of great, great literature in “Edgar,” pawing at the human condition and offering no shortage of fodder for the inner psychiatrist in each of us. I was too dim to be engaged, rolling my eyes at each weird character, each wacked-out scene, all that epileptic adolescent discovery. Please.Just not for me, sorry.But I’m probably not the best judge, finding no peers to Abbey in American Western prose. Here’s the little crumpled truism I picked up out of my own newspaper the other day, from participant Rosemerry Wahtola Trommer: “In the wide meadow of the common moment, love grows like dandelions, deep rooted, golden, and not always wanted.” It’s called “Admirer.”Compared to 423 pages of “Edgar,” I found this and her other poem in the paper positively Confucian.I generally hate poetry and I mean hate – generally being too slow to pick up the intended subleties and secretly frustrated by what those smarter folks seem to get so easily. But I’m going to hunt down her book next time I’m in Verbatim. Her words caught me by total surprise, as in “let’s read this piece of pretentious hoohey so we’s can mock the earnest A&E editor for the pure evil fun in it …”Ugh, now I’ll have to endure my colleague, one of those who does get it, smiling knowingly.Managing Editor Don Rogers can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 600, or editor@vaildaily.com


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