Book Review: Miracle Creek

Angie Kim, Miracle Creek  
Farrar, Straus, and Giroux
2019, 368 pages, paperback, $27

“MY HUSBAND ASKED  me to lie. Not a big lie. He probably didn’t even consider it a lie, and neither did I, at first . . .”  This lie starts Angie Kim’s courtroom drama Miracle Creek, which explores the mystery of the sudden explosion of the Miracle Submarine– a facility that uses an 100% pressurized oxygen chamber to heal damaged cells through deep penetration of oxygen therapy. How does the lie relate to the explosion? Who actually caused the fire? These two questions preoccupied my mind while reading. Besides being a thrilling courtroom drama, Angie Kim’s masterfully plotted novel Miracle Creek, shows us the story through a new perspective– the eyes of the marginalized: recent immigrant families, their teenage child, and parents of a child with special needs. As a former trial lawyer, editor of the Harvard Law Review, and a Korean immigrant, Kim’s personal experience helps her deliver this thrilling courtroom drama with professional expertise and empathy.

Miracle Creek begins with the sudden explosion of the submarine on the August 29th, 2008 which causes the deaths of  two patients and results in the injuries of four others. The suspect of this mysterious explosion becomes the central question of the novel, which follows the trial. It might be Young and Pak Yoo,the new immigrant family who runs the business of Hyperbaric Oxygenation Therapy in Miracle Creek, hoping to gain a large amount of  insurance money to help pay for their daughter’s college education. It might be Elizabeth, the mother of an autistic boy in the submarine that day, who was found sneaking cigarettes at the time of the explosion. It might be the Yoo’s daughter, Mary, who ,tasked with monitoring the tanks, left her desk to attend to the autistic boy, Henry. One must read to find out.

This novel is told in multiple points of views and the narratives follow their motives from shifting perspectives. Unlike other courtroom dramas, this novel does not present objective truth to readers– instead, it tells the motives that drive the main characters, in their own perspectives, in order to show readers what the characters actually think about the fire. Kim does a brilliant job shifting between different perspectives, from the Korean immigrant couple, to a man with infertility, to a newly arrived teenage girl, to a mom with an autistic son in order to provide readers with these characters’ history. For example, while we don’t want to believe Elizabeth could be the murderer of her son, Henry, we see from Elizabeth’s eyes that she has long suffered in caring for Henry, who she takes to Pak’s hyperbaric oxygenation therapy. Through Elizabeth’s eyes, Kim convinces us that Elizabeth might be the culprit because she is desperate enough to escape her autistic son, who she realizes can never be her version of “normal.” The rotating perspective allows us to understand Elizabeth, even though we disagree with her actions. So does Kim treat the other main characters; they all have their own secrets and the suspicion of guilt, waiting for readers to discover.

While the multiple narratives do complicate and deepen the story, the plot sometimes seems crowded. Kim writes about six different character’s lives– each with their own backgrounds–which sometimes make it challenging to keep track the story. But even though it’s challenging, Miracle Creek is still worth reading. For anyone who is interested in thrilling courtroom dramas, Miracle Creek offers readers emotional depth through its different viewpoints (both in terms of characters and the type of characters) in this twisty plot. Ultimately, Miracle Creek offers a way to relate to difficult experiences–like being an immigrant or the mother of an autistic child–and provides insights on these topics–about families coming to America and challenging parenting–all wrapped up in this exciting plot.

–Sophia Cheng ’20