Happy hardcover publication day to Angie Kim! This book has been out on kindle for a while so I was able to read it earlier this month.
A literary courtroom thriller about an immigrant family and a young single mother accused of killing her autistic son, Miracle Creek is a powerhouse debut about how far we’ll go to protect our families, and our deepest secrets.
In rural Miracle Creek, Virginia, Young and Pak Yoo run an experimental medical treatment device known as the Miracle Submarine. A pressurised oxygen chamber that patients enter for therapeutic “dives”, it’s also a repository of hopes and dreams: the dream of a mom that her child can be like other kids; the dream of a young doctor desperate to cure his infertility and save his marriage; the dream of the Yoos themselves, Korean immigrants who have come to the United States so their teenage daughter can have a better life.
When the oxygen chamber mysteriously explodes, killing two people, all those dreams shatter with it, and the ensuing murder trial uncovers unimaginable secrets and lies. In Miracle Creek, Angie Kim takes a classic form – courtroom drama – and draws on her own experience as an immigrant, a lawyer, and a mother of a real-life “submarine” patient to turn it into something wholly original, unputdownable…real. This is a spellbinding novel by an exciting new voice.
This spectacular debut is not your average thriller. Themes of immigration, special needs, family, friendship, arson, murder, secrets, and lies, all merge in this thought-provoking novel.
“I think about that moment a lot. The deaths, the paralysis, the trial – might all that have been averted if I’d pressed the button?”
The story opens on the day that the Miracle Submarine, an experimental treatment device, explodes killing two people and injuring others. It then jumps to the trial almost exactly a year later when Elizabeth Ward, who’s son Henry was one of the people who died, is on trial accused of starting the fire to get rid of her autistic son. What follows is a first person narrative told by seven narrators that all played their part in what happened that fateful day. But who set the fire that killed two innocent people? And why? And if it wasn’t Elizabeth then why does she keep saying she should be punished?
After reading the first chapter of this book I made a note that read: “What a *expletive* brilliant first chapter. Wow! I’m going to love this book!” I wasn’t wrong. This book instantly absorbed me into the world of these characters and didn’t let me go. There has been a lot of hype around this book and it deserves every bit of it. Mesmerising and expertly written, it’s hard to believe this is Angie Kim’s first novel. I loved how she took the courtroom drama and thriller genres, two of my favourites, and did something unique and special, creating a work of fiction that will remain with me.
“Pak Yoo was a different person in English than Korean…In Korean he was an authoritative man, educated and worthy of respect. In English, he was a deaf, mute idiot, unsure, nervous and inept.”
There were so many things right with this book. So many things I loved. But one of the things I loved most about this book is the way it makes you think about a range of topics and controversial issues. One such issue is immigration. Pak and Young Yoo, the owners of the Miracle Submarine, and their teenage daughter, Mary, are Korean immigrants. Through their story we learn the sobering truth of what life is really like for a lot of immigrants to America, and it’s not exactly the American dream they’ve been sold. The intricate details all brought home just how hard things are for them and while I’ve always been sensitive to the struggles of immigrants, reading things from the perspective of the immigrants themselves, and of immigrants to America rather than the UK, gave me a whole new level of admiration and empathy for them and see things from a different perspective. Leaving your country of birth, everything and everyone you know, is a daunting and brave thing to do whatever your circumstances, and this book highlights that while also showing them to be flawed, normal people.
“…anything was bearable when it was temporary; try doing it day after day, knowing you’d do this until you died.”
I also appreciated the way the author handled the subject of special needs. In this book we see the harsh realities these parents face, the thoughts they have that they’d never want to admit to the world, and things like the hierarchy of disabilities and how it can become a competition of suffering. I have multiple chronic illnesses and have a son with autism so I have some experience of these worlds and completely understand the willingness to try anything to cure yourself or your child. While I’ve never parented a severely disabled child, I can understand that feeling of wanting to be free of a burden while not wishing someone dead as I’ve wanted it for myself. There are days I’m in so much pain I don’t feel like I can take another second, let alone a lifetime, so I wish for release even though I don’t wish for death. This helped me relate to Teresa in particular when she was talking about how she felt about her daughter and the resentment that can come when disability isn’t something that’s been born with so it isn’t how they’re supposed to be, as it were.
“This was what the people had come for…the drama of the tragedy.”
One of the great things about this book was how it tears apart the “good mother” myth. While it is now more acceptable to admit how hard parenting is, to talk about the fact that it can be a bloody nightmare and that there’s times you go crazy, society still looks down on those things at times. This novel delves into how Elizabeth is demonised from the outset, how she isn’t just on trial for arson and murder, but for being a bad mother too. I loved that this story showed that even in the hardest moments, the times where we say or think things we’re ashamed of, we’re still good mothers that love our children.
The story moves between the present day and the events leading up to the explosion as shameful secrets about the characters lives and what happened that day are slowly revealed. The testimony is hard to read at times, especially Matt’s harrowing, graphic testimony about Henry’s death. I cried during these scenes as it was so vivid that it felt real and I could picture every haunting thing he described. But it isn’t a negative story. It is also one about hope, community and forgiveness.
Miracle Creek was my 80th read of 2019 and is one of the best. Timely, twisty, fast-paced and emotional, this is a book that I can’t recommend highly enough. If you haven’t read it and it’s not on your tbr list, then you need to add it now.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR :
Angie Kim moved as a preteen from Seoul, South Korea, to the suburbs of Baltimore. She attended Stanford University and Harvard Law School where she was an editor of the Harvard Law Review, then practiced as a trial lawyer at Williams & Connolly. Her stories have won the Glamour Essay Contest and the Wabash Prize in Fiction, and appeared in numerous publications including The New York Times, Salon Slate, The Southern Review, Sycamore Review, The Asian American Literary Review, and PANK. Kim lives in northern Virginia with her husband and three sons.