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Preview — Miracle Creek by Angie Kim
UPDATED 11/17/19: Thank you so much to the Goodreads editors and readers for your support, which made it possible for MIRACLE CREEK to be a semi-finalist for the Goodreads Choice Awards in both the Best Mystery/Thriller and Best Debut Novel categories! Please take a look at all the amazing nominees, and remember to vote! Last day for voting for the semi-final round is SUNDAY, November 17!!!! ** Thank you so much for reading MIRACLE CREEK and for reviewing and sharing your thoughts with other passionate readers. I hope that you enjoy these notes, which I wrote for the most popular highlighted Kindle passages, as well as in response to some of the most frequently asked questions I’ve received in book readings and signings.
I haven't yet read Miracle Creek but this article showed up in my Goodreads notifications. It has been on my "to read" list since before it's release, when it was called Miracle Submarine. I think I…
Hi Ginny! Thank you so much. I hope the novel resonates with you. Also, if your reading group does end up reading Miracle Creek, please let me know if you'd like me to join in any part of the discuss…
MY HUSBAND ASKED ME TO LIE.
The first version of this chapter started with “The pounding. It’s the pounding I remember most,” and then went directly into the scene with TJ’s head-banging (in the middle of page 7). This original opening line was a rhythmic homage to Russell Banks’ THE SWEET HEREAFTER, which opens with “A dog—it was a dog I saw for certain. Or thought I saw.” I love the structure of that novel—the exploration of a tragedy, the causation and the aftermath, through four people’s POVs—and I wanted to do something similar with my novel.
But life doesn’t work like that. Tragedies don’t inoculate you against further tragedies, and misfortune doesn’t get sprinkled out in fair proportions; bad things get hurled at you in clumps and batches, unmanageable and messy.
MIRACLE CREEK is the first novel I’ve even attempted to write. As such, I put a lot of myself in it, and pieces of my life are scattered throughout its pages. One such piece involves my kids. I have three boys. My first child was born deaf in one ear due to a neurological condition, which involved a lot of hospital visits, tests, and therapy when he was a baby/toddler. By the time he was four, when everything seemed resolved with that (and other associated neuropathies ruled out), we found out that he had two OTHER unrelated medical issues—celiac disease and ulcerative colitis—and my other child turned out to have severe anaphylactic allergies. Shortly thereafter, we had two medical scares with our third child for conditions completely unrelated to any of those. (Thankfully, all three kids are fine now.) I was a Philosophy major in college, and this set of events definitely made me think hard about how foolish I’d been to expect that going through one misfortune would mean nothing more would happen to my life, at least for a while.
I just wanted to tell you that Miracle Creek is, I believe, the only book I've ever read that has gotten better and better the farther out I've gotten from finishing it. Usually, I'll rate something…
I agree with you Leanne -- it is weeks or months since I read Miracle Creek and it is still the book I am recommending to everyone. Many of its ideas and sentiments occur to me in the course of my da…
Leanne and Carole, thank you so much. I know what you're talking about and have definitely felt that toward certain books, and I'm so happy that you feel that way about my book!
The lobby plaque said the courthouse was a 250-year-old historical landmark and asked for donations to the Pineburg Courthouse Preservation Society. Young had shaken her head at the thought of this society, an entire group whose sole purpose was to prevent this building from becoming modern. Americans were so proud of things being a few hundred years old, as if things being old were a value in and of itself. (Of course, this philosophy did not extend to people.) They didn’t seem to realize that the world valued America precisely because it was not old, but modern and new. Koreans were the ...more
I moved from Seoul, South Korea, to the Baltimore area when I was 11 years old. As an immigrant, there are a lot of things I noticed about America and Americans that seemed different from the Korean perspective I grew up with. This is one of the earliest observations I remember having about America and Americans, during a school field trip to Colonial Williamsburg, I think it was. Fun fact: my husband and I were walking around a historic part of Charleston, SC, right before my book was published. He said this to me (about Americans being so proud of things being a few hundred years old) and said “I read that in some book somewhere, can’t remember where.” I had to laugh and say, “Yeah, in MY book. You just forgot because it’s been like two years since the last time you read it!” (We also laughed that it reminded us of that scene in When Harry Met Sally when Sally’s friend Marie quotes Jess’s own words to him at dinner and they fall in love.)
My book club in Charleston, SC will love this little story about this passage. Thank you for sharing!
Angie that's for sure!
Thanks so much, Natasha! Please let me know if your book club ends up reading. I'm conspiring with my publicist and the owner of Buxton Books to try to do a reading/signing there this Fall!
Having a special-needs child didn’t just change you; it transmuted you, transported you to a parallel world with an altered gravitational axis.
I did HBOT in real life with one of my kids who had ulcerative colitis. The standard treatments weren’t working, and he was in pain, throwing up every day, losing weight, and we became desperate and decided to try this experimental treatment. (If you want to read about it, go to tinyURL.com/VogueAngieKim). It was a group HBOT chamber like Miracle Submarine, with kids with chronic illnesses and special needs, including autism and cerebral palsy. It was an intense and intimate environment, with a confessional feel, and we parents talked about our lives and families. No matter what the condition or the severity, the one thing we all agreed on is that when your kids have a chronic condition, it’s not just your actions that change, but the whole world, your outlook, your relationship to society, EVERYTHING changes. One of my favorite things about having written this book is reading reviews and emails from readers who have children with special needs or chronic illnesses—hearing that they appreciate reading sentiments like this because they’ve thought it themselves, and it makes them feel less alone.
Rachel, that's such a fascinating way of putting it. I love that. Thank you.
I have lived the special needs life as a sibling and a parent. Both my sister and my child have been adults for a long time now and resources and treatments have changed across time. I haven't had an…
Thank you so much for commenting, Rosemary. Perspectives like yours are so important to me and touch me deeply. Thank you.
People talked so much about the loss of intimacy between married couples as the years progress, so many studies about the number of times a couple has sex in the first year of marriage versus the remaining years, but no one measured the number of hours spent holding your baby in the first year of life versus the remaining years, the dramatic dissipation of intimacy—the sensual familiarity of nursing, holding, comforting—as children pass from infancy and toddlerhood to the teens. You lived in the same house, but the intimacy was gone, replaced by aloofness, with splashes of annoyance. Like an ...more
This is something that I feel so acutely as a mother. One of my kids is still young enough that I can give him huge hugs and cuddle up with him reading or watching TV and he won’t be annoyed, but two of my kids are teenage boys (so you can imagine their response, haha). I remember when they were babies and they’d wake up in the middle of the night. I’d be so annoyed at having to get up, of course, but a part of me loved that night nursing time, holding the baby in my arms in the darkened nursery, the whole house quiet. I really miss it.
L T, I'm already thinking that I'm going to love being a grandmother, precisely for this reason! (My husband and my kids think I'm crazy lol)
Sadly, the separation becomes greater when they leave for college. I always compared it to falling in love. You and this little person are madly and affectionately in love with each other at first. T…
Jodi, that's so poignant. Especially so to me right now because I am with my family, traveling with them to visit colleges. :-(
It was why all the studies showed that rich, successful people who should be the happiest—CEOs, lottery winners, Olympic champions—weren’t, in fact, the happiest, and why the poor and disabled weren’t necessarily the most depressed: you got used to your life, whatever accomplishments and troubles it happened to hold, and adjusted your expectations accordingly.
The relativity of happiness is something I’ve thought about a lot. This idea of ‘should vs. is’ when it comes to so-called objective successes as compared to subjective feelings of happiness. I think I became fascinated with this notion as a child. In Korea, my parents and I were very poor. We lived in one tiny room of another family’s house, with no indoor plumbing and limited electricity. But I had my parents with me always, and I remember our life in Korea as one of happiness and contentment. When we moved to the US, my life got much better, objectively; my aunt’s house where I lived was luxurious, with multiple indoor bathrooms, my own bedroom with a bed, color TVs, refrigerators and microwaves. But I lost my parents in the process. They ran a grocery store in a dangerous part of Baltimore, and the store hours were so long (6 am to midnight) that they lived in the store, and I saw them once every few weeks. So even though I knew I should have been grateful to be in America, I couldn’t. I longed to return to that squalid shack where my parents and I were happy, even though we probably shouldn’t have been because we were so poor.
Marsha, I hadn't thought about that with foster homes. That breaks my heart. Thank you for sharing that.
It sounds so much like today. So many people are lost. Technology has taken over. Real communication is long gone. When you are with people for the most part especially parents those moments are the…
Ann, yes! Togetherness is so important for families!
I used to be a trial lawyer, and I absolutely LOVED using charts in court to demonstrate some point, especially when it involved trying to destroy the credibility of a hostile witness, as Shannon does here. My husband (a trial lawyer for 20 years! We met in law school) turned me on to it. I’m a visual person, and I think having the main points summarized on paper is so fun and helpful for the judge or jury. It created an issue for the audiobook, though, and I had to write a few sentences describing the charts to replace each chart.
In a way, he supposed, it was inevitable for immigrants to become child versions of themselves, stripped of their verbal fluency and, with it, a layer of their competence and maturity.
The Yoo family’s background is taken almost directly from my own family’s experience. The one major exception is that my father was not a “goose father,” like Pak was. I first heard about the goose-father phenomenon about ten years ago and have been fascinated by it. It seems like the ultimate in parental sacrifice, putting the child’s needs above the parents’ own lives, which is one of the major themes of this novel. To a lesser extent, I think almost all immigration is an act of extreme parental sacrifice, as it involves the parents giving up a major part of their identity—their family and friends, their careers, and (as this passage emphasizes) their language and sense of self-competence. Children tend to become fluent in the new language much more quickly than their parents, which results in the parents becoming infantilized and the children taking on an authoritative role, as they become the family speaker and translator.
Mimi, that's exactly right. It's not just a linguistic thing! And Suzanne, yes! Most people experience a less intense version of this when we vacation in other countries, but it becomes so much more…
What an eloquent way to describe what happens over and over again with immigrant families. It is absolutely true that, especially in the beginning, immigrant parents become stripped of their ability…
Thank you, Katie, for understanding and for putting it so well here.
In Korean, he was an authoritative man, educated and worthy of respect. In English, he was a deaf, mute idiot, unsure, nervous, and inept. A bah-bo.
Even though this particular passage is about (and written from the point of view of) Pak, I remember this very thing happening to me. In Korea, I had been a talkative, social, smart girl. In the US (in middle school), I couldn’t understand or say anything. Intellectually, I knew that I wasn’t stupid, that there was a reasonable explanation for my not speaking English and I shouldn’t feel ashamed, and yet, that’s exactly how I felt. It was the most frustrating experience of my life, and even after I became fluent in English, this frustration and shame stayed with me, as I witnessed the same thing happening to my parents—frustration that it was taking so long for my parents to learn English, shame that I was the daughter of people who were so stupid (even though, again, I knew at an intellectual level that there was a perfectly understandable reason for their relative difficulty mastering English, that they were not stupid). I think this is one of the main reasons why I’m drawn to stories exploring autism, especially in those who are nonverbal or who have expressive communication difficulties: it brings me back to that time when I felt so frustrated, knowing that I had thoughts within me, things I wanted to say, and not being able to express them and seeing in others’ eyes that they thought of me as inferior, as less-than. My experience was nothing compared to autism, of course. For one thing, it was temporary, and I knew everything would pass soon, once I learned English. Even so, it was devastating to my sense of self, and I developed a deep insecurity that still permeates to this day. So if this temporary communication issue affected me that fundamentally, how must it affect those with nonverbal autism, who have endured it from the earliest age, without an end point? This really affects me, and it’s something I will explore much more in my next novel.
That was the thing about lies: they demanded commitment. Once you lied, you had to stick to your story.
I think lying is very difficult, precisely because of this. You have to stick to the story you tell, and you have to stick to all the ramifications of that story. My favorite part of being a lawyer (by far!) was being in the courtroom or taking a deposition, questioning a hostile witness and ferreting out and trying to find a weakness in their story. One of the best ways to do that, I found, was to ask them about a logical extension of their main story, something that must be true if they’re telling the truth, and then confronting them with a document or previous statement that contradicts that. The funny thing was, people would often continue to stick to their lie even when faced with incontrovertible evidence that it was a lie. It made them look ridiculous and destroyed their credibility, and yet, they’d persist. I found it fascinating, this commitment to their lies. It often led to a situation in which someone would lie about something little, insignificant, but rather than admit that they lied, shame would take over and they’d end up saying more and more outlandish things in support of that initial little lie, until the lie grew to something big and important. Shame is at the root of so many lies and secrets. I think it may be the most powerful emotion we have, certainly the most long-lasting.
Certainly relevant to present day.....
I appreciate your sentiment -- however, as a litigation attorney in my younger life, I learned that some people who lie and are caught in those lies have no shame!
Carole, I totally saw that, too! Lies are very strange things. And Laura Heaney, TOTALLY!!!!
So if a tiny part of us has these thoughts a tiny part of the time, thoughts we shut out as soon as they creep in, is that so bad? Isn’t that just human?”
This is what Elizabeth says to Teresa in response to what Teresa confesses to her, about her once having a fleeting thought (that she’s extremely ashamed by) of wondering if her life would be better if her daughter had died. This is a passage that Ari Shapiro read on NPR’s All Things Considered and discussed with me. I love that so much because it’s such a pivotal moment that’s at the heart of this novel for me. I think that there’s a Myth of the Good Mother, which is that mothers are and should be saintly. Elle Magazine said that Miracle Creek “tears the ‘Good Mother’ myth apart,” and I hope that that’s true. I think all humans have fleeting, shameful thoughts, but I think mothers who admit openly to having such thoughts are demonized. Being a mother is hard. It’s hard with any child, special needs and chronic illnesses or not. We should be able to be open and honest with each other about it, and not have it be so taboo. I’m not saying that it’s all hard and bad—not at all! There’s intense love and so much joy, but it can be awful sometimes, and we should be able to talk about that and process it with each other, together.
Natalie [genreneutralreader], thank you! I think part of it is that we've bought in to that saintly mother ideal because it's so fundamental to our societal expectation for mothers. So when we have t…
I am reminded of a comment a co-worker made to me more than 40 years ago now. This kind, caring, wonderful woman had recently given birth to baby#3. All of her children were 20 months apart so she ha…
Rosemary - YES!!!!! That's exactly what it is. It's so much easier to forgive yourself and realize (TRULY realize) that you're not a monster for these thoughts if you know that others have similar th…
But that was the way life worked. Every human being was the result 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.
I’m fascinated by the multiverse theory, the idea that there are parallel worlds. Whenever something bad happens, I immediately think, what if? What if this one little thing had been different, what if I’d left the house one minute later, what if I’d decided to go to eat in instead of going out to a restaurant? I think many people do this when bad things happen, and it’s only natural that the characters in Miracle Creek would do this after the explosion. They wonder what their lives would be like today if they’d made one different decision—something that seemed insignificant at the time but might have resulted in one less death, or maybe no explosion or fire at all. I’ve seen this passage more than any other passage in reviews and social media posts. It’s one of my favorite passages, and I’m happy it’s resonated with so many readers.
Gail I am so sorry for your loss. I have tried poetry in the past ..no not sharing anything here. As much as I want to poetry doesn't come as easily for me as I would like.
Angie--I've always liked writing poetry & have written hundreds of poems of all types (including Haiku). This is one of the ways I can express my feelings so it felt natural to write poems about…
Pak had planned to call the business “Miracle Creek Wellness Center,” but seeing the chamber, the way it resembled a miniature submarine, she’d said, “Miracle Submarine.” She’d turned to Pak and said it again. “Miracle Submarine—that’s what we should call it.” He’d smiled and said that was a good name, a better name,
I did HBOT in real life with one of my kids for his ulcerative colitis. The first time he saw the chamber (he was 4 yrs old), he pointed to it and said, “Look, it’s a submarine.” We’d just watched the Beatles’ Yellow Submarine for family movie night, and the HBOT chamber looked just like that, except it was blue. So we called it our “Blue Submarine” for the rest of that summer. When I wrote this novel years later, I titled it Miracle Submarine, and that’s how thousands of ARCs (Advance Reader Copies) were printed. We got feedback from some early readers that the “submarine” in the title made them think it might be a military thriller, or perhaps a children’s book (like the Yellow Submarine), so we changed it to Miracle Creek, which is ironic given this highlighted passage. I named the town (and the creek) Miracle Creek as an homage to Dennis Lehane’s MYSTIC RIVER, which is one of my favorite books of all time. I outlined that book to learn from its great structure and plot points when I decided that I wanted to write a novel, so I wanted to pay tribute to it somehow.
I love Lehane's books & have read them all. The title of your book was the first hook that caught my interest. If it had been titled Miracle Submarine, I don't know that I would've gone on to rea…
Gail Sacharski, I'm so happy that you told me this! It was pretty awful to have to change titles, and hearing things like this from readers helps me to feel better about the decision. So thank you!
Han. There was no English equivalent, no translation. It was an overwhelming sorrow and regret, a grief and yearning so deep it pervades your soul—but with a sprinkling of resilience, of hope.
I love this Korean concept of han. It’s very important in Korean philosophy, and I find it so interesting that there is no English word quite like it. I’m a huge fan of The West Wing—I’ve probably Marathon-watched that show more than any other, with the possible exception of Star Trek: The Next Generation—and there’s actually an episode titled “Han” about a North Korean pianist who wants to defect to the US. He tells President Bartlett about han, and the President looks it up and discusses the poignancy of the pianist’s invocation of that word. I think that word fits here, as Young is thinking back to everything that’s happened and the hint of hope and brightness in the future to come.
Thank you so much for reading Miracle Creek and for reading my notes. For more discussion about the book and my writing and publication process, please visit my website (angiekimbooks.com), which has links to many of my interviews and essays. If your book club is discussing Miracle Creek, I’d love to come visit, in person in the DC-MD-VA area or by Skype anywhere else. Check the Book Club tab on my website for details and contact information. Thank you!
Thank you so much again, Gail!
I first came across this book when I was scoping out more Asian-American writers, especially Korean ones, and as part-Korean myself, I found this resonated a lot with my own family’s experience. I’m…
Thank you so much, Pia. That means so much to me, as Powell's is a bookstore I revere!!!! If you do a shelf display, I'd love a picture! I'm at email@example.com. Thank you so much again.