Miracle Creek: A Novel
by Angie Kim
Korean immigrants Park and Young Yoo opened the Miracle Submarine, a hyperbaric oxygen chamber large enough for six, in the small town of Miracle Creek, Virginia. They offered this experimental therapy to clients with autism, cerebral palsy, Crohn’s disease, and even infertility. Only open about a month, one August day challenged the new business owners. Protestors against using the 100% oxygen therapy on autism patients picketed and blocked the driveway. Mylar balloons released into the power lines cut electricity to the property, leaving them to operate solely on generator power.
And then tragedy struck: a fire ignited the highly flammable oxygen in the chamber and spread to the barn housing the “submarine.” Henry Ward, an eight-year-old with autism and Kitt Kozlowski, mother of another autistic boy receiving treatment, were killed. Dr. Matt Thompson, a patient with infertility, who had a mysterious relationship with Mary Yoo, was afflicted with serious burns on his hands and lost two fingers. Pak was paralyzed, and his daughter, Mary, was in a coma for eight weeks.
A year later, Henry’s mom, Elizabeth, was on trial for arson, attempted murder, and murder. Abe Patterley, district attorney, and Shannon Haug, Elizabeth’s defense lawyer, were skilled adversaries. As Abe carefully made his case and Shannon eviscerated his witnesses, it became clear that Elizabeth was guilty–but was she guilty of the charges against her?
Shifting perspective between a handful of characters, Angie Kim provides a number of viable suspects who had opportunity and motive to commit the crime. The secrets and lies perpetuated by the primary characters began for each as a means of protection but become virtual prisons. How the characters grappled with the truth and resolved to handle their deception played significant roles in their ultimate fate.
Miracle Creek has the structure of a courtroom drama but offers a number of innovations, primarily the diversity of the characters. With the Yoos as Korean immigrants, the novel offers a window into Korean culture and the difficulty of managing a dual identity based on the author’s own experiences as an immigrant from Seoul. The book also considers the unique challenges and rewards of raising special needs children and provides a difficult and honest perspective.
While less central, Kim also introduces debate on the efficacy and legitimacy of alternative therapies. I can’t remember reading any other novel recently that so thoroughly describes the physical responses of characters, often as sensations that radiate throughout the body. I’m wondering if this is a commentary on the mind-body connection or a quirk of the author.
Although I enjoyed Miracle Creek, at times I found the writing cumbersome. Additionally, as a character, Young was central but in some ways underdeveloped, and some of her beliefs seem unrealistic. At the same time, it was a quick, engrossing read, and I welcomed the unusual context and diverse characters.
Thank you to Netgalley and Farrar, Straus and Giroux for providing an advance reading copy in exchange for an honest review.