Miracle Creek by Angie Kim
Published by Sarah Crichton Books
Publication date: April 16, 2019
Genres: Book Clubs, Cultural, Debut, Fiction, Mystery, Social Issues, Suspense
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The Yoo family—Pak, Young, and their daughter Mary, have pinned all their American hopes and all their money on their new business. It’s a hyperbaric chamber that is supposed to help cure or improve all kinds of medical issues. Angie Kim’s new novel, Miracle Creek, begins while a session is in progress. In the chamber are two children with severe autism, one parent, and Matt, a man suffering from low sperm motility, which his wife believes can be helped by the high doses of pure oxygen pumped into the chamber. What begins as a normal treatment goes terribly wrong when the oxygen tanks explode, sending flames into the locked chamber. One boy dies, as does a parent. Matt loses fingers and Pak is paralyzed. How could this have happened and who is responsible?
This shocking opening scene also lets readers in on a lie. Pak is the licensed operator for the Miracle Submarine (as they call the hyperbaric chamber). No one else is supposed to manage things during a session. But that’s not the case at the time of the incident. This is just the first of the many lies that make Miracle Creek propulsive and hypnotic reading. But does this mean Pak is on trial? No. Elizabeth, the parent of Henry, the boy who died, is found to have planned the explosion in order to kill her son and free herself from a life in service to him that has become unbearable.
After the opening scene the novel segues immediately into the trial taking place a year later. In the same way that the defense and prosecution call witnesses, Kim lines up her characters and lets them testify to what happened not only that day, but in the days and even months before. Each has a lot of story to share, all of which they believe to be the absolute truth and none of which turns out to be the case. For every truth uncovered another lie remains hidden.
As each character tells their side of the story, Kim carefully teases out details in their lives that, on the surface, may seem unimportant or unrelated, but that later assume greater significance. There are the four years when Pak stayed in South Korea while Young and Mary lived in difficult circumstances in the U.S. Matt’s wife’s obsessive goal in adding a baby to her list of achievements. Elizabeth’s relationship, not just with her son, but with the other women in the autism community. The more you learn, the less you know. Kim heightens the tension by ending each chapter with another small twist. This could feel like manipulation, but in Kim’s hands, is irresistible.
There was a point, at about ¾ of the way through the novel, when I had a moment of feeling as Kim was reaching too far in expanding the list of suspects, but it quickly faded. It’s hard to believe this is a debut—she’s that good. Her sense of timing and character development makes Miracle Creek standout reading whether you’re a fan of mysteries, family drama, or social issues.
The magical thing was that if she presented this reinvented version in a matter-of-fact way, she could trick him into questioning his own memory.