cover image MIRACLE GIRL

MIRACLE GIRL

Keith Scribner, Author . Riverhead $23.95 (257p) ISBN 978-1-57

Written with a simplicity that mirrors the development of the plot, this well-crafted second novel demonstrates Scribner's (The Good Life) solid, noirish accessibility and talent for detailed characterizations. John Fitzgerald Kennedy Quinn, known to friends and co-workers by his last name, is in his mid-30s and working as a real estate salesman for the Catholic Church in upstate Hudson City, N.Y., as the city lurches out of decades of stasis. A live-in romance with the increasingly distant Rita competes with a variety of business deals that threaten to leave him in a professional and personal quagmire. When the mysterious Sue Phong, the titular miracle girl, gains media attention for an assortment of healing phenomena for which she may or may not be responsible, the Church is pressured either to label the incidents as works of God or to dismiss them as an elaborate sham. The city is in an uproar, and Quinn unexpectedly finds himself having to take a stand. As he gets closer to Sue and to an understanding of what makes her tick, he is forced to question the genuineness of his own life and abandons caution to find the answers before he, along with everyone else desperate to be touched by the "miracle" girl, loses something irreplaceable. While telling details sum up characters swiftly and decisively, some of the dialogue (particularly among minor characters) shades into boilerplate. This contemplative foray into the beliefs and decisions that shape the lives of individuals and communities is funny, gritty and tender, but Scribner doesn't quite fit all of Quinn's feelings into his words and actions. (Sept. 1)