In her debut novel, Miracle Creek, Angie Kim tells a story that is complex and layered, the way life tends to be. The story; a fire in a Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy (HBOT) chamber, which is owned by a Korean immigrant family in a mostly White area, kills two people. We enter the book on day one of the trial, and we’re tasked with sorting through the stories and emotions to figure out who set the fire, and why.
Angie Kim was once a trial lawyer and it shows. The best scenes in this book are the ones in the courtroom. They move with dexterity and never feel slow and clunky, in fact, I wanted more trial scenes, and I wanted them to last longer. When Kim was interviewed on The Short Stacks, she mentioned how when writing these scenes she felt an ease of writing that she didn’t always feel in other sections. I think that can be felt in the reading of the exchanges in the courtroom.
When it comes to power dynamics Kim does a fantastic job of keeping the reader in a suspended state, constantly trying to figure out who is on top. This is played out through race, gender, language, education levels, age, and so much more. It is really impressive and subtle. Kim manipulates (in a good way) scenes from different perspectives to give situations that seemed black and white, depth, and areas of grey.
Another element of this story that is powerful is the guilt and anxiety that many of the parents feel. So much of this book centers around children with disabilities (mostly Autism) and the parent’s own fears and hopes become paramount to the story. When we are asked to hear out these mothers as human, and not just chauffeurs to and from HBOT therapy, we see a full and nuanced picture of the challenges of parenthood, especially when that parenting comes with the fear of your child being left behind. There is a lot of vulnerability that we rarely see or discuss when it comes to parenting for fear of judgement. One scene in particular is a standout when it comes to the things parents think, but never say.
There is another side of this conversation where I think Miracle Creek misses the mark. In addition to the parental anxiety, there is the sense that the only way to release that anxiety is to “fix” the child. While thats a common way people think about disability, it isn’t based in reality. Most people who are disabled and/or who have developmental challenges are fully who they are. There is no fixing, no matter how badly a parent may want their child to be seen as “normal”. The idea that a child is exactly who they are and that that is ok, is barely present in this story. The only time this perspective is shared is by the mostly two dimensional protestors, that are portrayed as the villains of this story (not a spoiler). In a story with so many points of view (the chapters are broken up by changing narrators), it would have been easy to include a voice that contradicts or challenges the parents whose children are in HBOT and other therapies.
This book takes on a lot of complex issues, and while I really enjoyed reading Miracle Creek, there were places where I wished Kim had dug deeper or found more nuanced ways to discuss topics that are very layered and not so easy to discuss.
We read Miracle Creek for The Stacks Book Club and you can hear that conversation by clicking the link below.
If you’ve read this book I’d love to hear your thoughts, share them in the comments below.
- Hardcover: 368
- Publisher: Sarah Crichton Books (April 16, 2019)
- 4/5 stars
- Buy Miracle Creek Amazon or IndieBound
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