Every once in a while, a really special book comes along, a book that is just perfect for you in so many ways. For me, Miracle Creek is one of those books. It is a delectable combination of medical fiction, mystery, courtroom drama, and immigrant story, all tightly woven into a fast-paced and wonderfully readable novel.
The story centers on the Yoo family who have recently immigrated from Korea. In an effort to support themselves and their teenage daughter, Mary, Pak and Young open a business offering hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) in a submarine shaped chamber they call “the miracle submarine.” Patients drive long distance to undergo this experimental treatment, hoping it will be the one that finally makes a difference. Elizabeth brings her autistic son, Henry, who has been improving more slowly than she would like. No stranger to alternative treatments, Elizabeth hopes this will be the one that changes Henry into a normal child. Kitt bring her youngest child, TJ, who is severely autistic, constantly banging his head, and only calming when Barney the purple dinosaur is on screen. Teresa comes with Rosa, her teenage daughter who developed cerebral palsy after a viral illness, and Matt, whose Korean wife is family friends with the Yoos, hopes to improve his sperm function to cure their infertility. Within the close confines of the submarine, these strangers develop a forced intimacy over the long hours of the “dives,” a sort of makeshift dysfunctional family. When a horrific tragedy occurs—someone sets fire to the chamber with patients inside, leading to the deaths of Henry and Kitt and serious injuries for Matt, Pak, and Mary—the riveting story is set in motion. I couldn’t stop turning the pages to figure out who set the fire and why.
Kim utilizes an interesting structure to tell the story. The first chapter, entitled, “The Incident,” is told from Young’s first person point of view on the day of the fire and all of the following chapters are in third person close point of view one year later when Elizabeth has been put on trial for arson, rotating among all of the characters who survived the tragedy. Every character has a plausible motive to have committed the crime and a compelling storyline. With so many narrators, I usually find some more interesting than others, but in this case Kim does a commendable job creating story arcs for every character that are all believable and interesting.
Kim’s writing is lyrical, seamless, and articulate. I often found myself stopping to highlight a beautiful turn of phrase or unique description. In this section, Young has boarded an airplane for the first time:
“She looked at the metal-smooth wing, fluttering slightly as it grazed the clouds’ diffuse edges before slicing the cottony blooms in perfect precision, and she had a flickering sense of wrongness, that she didn’t belong in the sky. It felt like hubris. Rejecting your natural-born place in the world and using an alien machine to defy gravity and dislocate yourself to another continent.”
Within the gorgeous prose, Kim also addresses many important topics and themes, including the difficulty of raising a child with special needs, the challenges of immigrating to a country where you don’t speak the language or know the customs, and the problems that arise in an interracial marriage.
In this section, Young is thinking about the explosion and its consequences and about how everything could have turned out differently if only one piece of the puzzle had been missing.
“Every human being was the results of a million different factors mixing together—one of a million sperm arriving at the egg at exactly a certain time; even a millisecond off, and another entirely different person would result. Good things and bad—every friendship and romance formed, every accident, every illness—resulted from the conspiracy of hundreds of little things, in and of themselves inconsequential.”
So many elements of Miracle Creek come from the author’s own experiences. She immigrated to America from Korea as a preteen, she experienced HBOT first hand with her son who suffered from hearing loss and gastrointestinal disorders, and she is a former trial attorney. Kim makes use of all of her life experiences to make every scene believable, realistic, and heart wrenching. For more about Kim’s experiences and her inspiration for writing the novel, check out this wonderful piece she wrote for Vogue magazine.
I finished Miracle Creek on January 18, and yet I know without a doubt it will be on of my favorites novels of the year, and likely of all time.