BOOK REVIEW: Night of Miracles

Berg, Elizabeth - Night of MiraclesNight of Miracles

Elizabeth Berg

In the first chapter of Night of Miracles, Lucille Howard characterizes her thinking as traditional, hopeful, whimsical, and characterized by magical thinking. This description could also describe the book as a whole. A stand-alone sequel to The Story of Arthur Truluv, Night of Miracles focuses on denizens of Mason, Missouri: Lucille, an octogenarian retired teacher who now gives baking classes; Tiny and Monica, star-crossed lovers; Abby, Jason, and son Lincoln who are ripped by a family tragedy; and sophisticated newcomer Iris who came to Mason fleeing her past.

Sweet and charming, the book contains short chapters written in vignette-style switch between the primary characters’ perspectives. At times, it’s hilarious. In one chapter, Iris interviews with Lucille to be her assistant. Lucille has prepared a short quiz for applicants, and their interaction as Lucille reviews Iris’ responses had me cackling.

Night of Miracles emphasizes the power of connection among community members who are stronger together than when facing challenges alone. It is in the vein of A Man Called Ove, the genre of grumpy old people turned soft genre, and while mostly light-hearted, it does pack an emotional punch at times. Still, it is not as complex as Fredrik Backman’s novel or as skillfully written as Olive Kitteridge.

I found some areas of the book problematic. More than one character is overweight and decides to diet. Though Tiny observes that women really diet for each other, not for men, the book perpetuates fat shaming by linking being overweight to being insecure. Additionally, I thought the book completely belittled veganism/vegetarianism. Though much of the criticism came from a particular character’s point of view, the actual vegetarians in the book started eating meat, as though being vegetarian or vegan was a burden to be shed.

Given the structure of the novel and the multiple points of view, the characters have less development than if the book focused on fewer of Mason’s citizens. I understand the choice to include a tapestry of voices and show their interconnectedness but the trade-off is a lack of depth in characterization.

Finally, although the book had a mystical tone, some elements were so unrealistic as to be jarring. For example, once character receives a call from a doctor on a Saturday who personally schedules her to come in the next day, a Sunday. Seems unlikely! The timeline of the book, which seems to run from October through December, seems too short for all the events that occur. I kept second-guessing myself and checking the contextual clues and holidays for confirmation.

Despite these issues, Night of Miracles is a quick and easy read–I finished it in one sitting–that was emotionally satisfying with sympathetic characters.

Thanks to Netgalley and Random House for providing an advance reading copy in exchange for an honest review.