The crowds keep coming. They arrive, all with their own reasons, with doubt or certainty or something in between. More and more arrive every day, drawn by rumor and whisper and desperate wish. They come to Shaker Street to see eight-year-old Anabelle Vincent, who lies in a coma-like state—unable to move or speak. They come because a visitor experienced what seemed like a miracle, and believed it happened because of Anabelle.
Word spreads. There are more visitors, more supposed miracles, more stories on TV and the internet. But is this the divine at work or something else? A finalist for the Los Angeles Times Art Seidenbaum Award for First Fiction, “The Miracle Girl is more than an exploration of the mysteries of faith. It’s also the unforgettable story of one family’s struggle against tragedy. The result is an uplifting miracle of a book” (Will Allison, author of Long Drive Home).
“[An] assured debut . . . Overfamiliarity has diluted the significance of the word ‘miracle’—used to describe diets, cures, even sandwich spread—but Roe suggests that the miraculous is a perpetual human craving. The Miracle Girl is a hopeful meditation on the mysteries of faith.” —The New York Times Book Review
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| Karen |
EVERYTHING NOW: A before and after. Time split, a line separating what was from what is. Actually, two before and afters: the accident itself, and when things started happening with Anabelle. And things, Karen knows, is not the right word, not the right word at all; it sounds wrong and wobbly when spoken aloud and even when it's thought of in her mind, but what else to call it? Strange occurrences? Unexplained phenomena? Curious coincidences? Nothing is right. Nothing is adequate. And so: things.
She does this often, distinguishing between past and present, and it's what she's doing now as she retreats down the hallway and toward the kitchen after having ushered the first visitor of the day into her daughter's room, a woman who came because of her own daughter, who has cancer and is only eight years old, the same age as Anabelle. Before: visitors were rare. After: they show up almost every day. Before: she hardly spoke to anyone. After: she talks to people all the time. Before: she had a daughter that was fairly normal. After: a daughter that is anything but normal. Before: a husband. After: well ...
The woman had traveled all the way from Bellingham, Washington, driving straight through, stopping only for gas and coffee and M&Ms, her face manic and oily from the road, one of her earrings having gone AWOL, strands of uncooperative, graying hair escaping a long ponytail, the rapid-fire speech of a standup comedian on a roll. "It isn't right," she told Karen before she hurried into the bedroom. "It just isn't right. A child. Cancer. Those two things, those two words, they don't go together. It doesn't make sense. And yet. The tests. The confirmation is there. She can't lift her left arm now sometimes. This isn't how the world is supposed to be. It shakes you to the core. It isn't right. I'm — I'm sorry. Off I go. Rambling and such. Just ask Terry. Terry, my husband, who's taking care of her while I'm here. Terry'll tell you. How I start in on one thing and then end up on another completely. He's half saint, really, Terry, after all we've been through. But your daughter. I'm sorry. Is it all right to touch her? I don't want to overstep. Or be like inappropriate. How does it usually work? I'm not really religious, see. It just felt like the right thing to do. I knew I had to drive. I knew I had to come."
Before: she didn't know such struggle and sadness could indiscriminately deploy in people's lives. After: she does.
And there in the kitchen is Bryce. With his little-boy wonder and NFL build, like two people in one. He's unloading the dishwasher, stacking plates and dishes on the counter. Not even nine o'clock now, and already it's blazing outside. Inside, it's time to close the windows and blast the air conditioning. It's what she'll do next. But first she needs to sit down. The kitchen table as temporary refuge, as site of intermission and much-needed pause. Bryce turns as she pulls out a chair. The day officially underway.
"Hey there. Our visitor all set then?"
"Just went in. I don't think she's slept in days. She's on a kind of a high. How long is it that a person can go without sleep?" Bryce joins her at the table, his hair still wet from the shower. He smells like morning.
"I don't know," he says. "Three days? Four? There's coffee if you want. And guess what? I had an idea."
Bryce is always having ideas. He was one of the first to come, from La Mirada, a sweet soul and firm believer in fate, who'd been taking care of his sick mother (cancer, strokes, asthma, depression) until she finally died late last year. He'd been lost after, he told her, in a fog. Then he read about Anabelle online somewhere and came to see her the very same day. And now he helps out, answers the phone, changes Anabelle's sheets, brings groceries and books, cooks meals, cleans. She can't picture all this without him.
"I have a feeling you're going to tell me what that idea is," says Karen.
Bryce smiles. They have banter, definite banter. She's not sure when it started. But one day it was there, in the house with them, like an old friend.
"So there's this little core group of people we have helping out with Anabelle — Dominique, Marnie, Meredith, you, me. And the nurses and PTs and all the delivery and medical supplies people. And I was thinking, just thinking, we needed a name. You know.
Something catchy. Something like Anabelle's Angels. We could have T-shirts and a secret handshake. What do you think?" Now Karen smiles.
"I like it," she says, admiring the table's immaculate gleam and the organized stacks of mail: letters to Anabelle, letters to Karen, bills, coupons, unheeded solicitations to people who used to live here, names that make her a little sad. "I like it a lot. Especially the secret handshake part."
"And I still want to get that website going," Bryce continues. "I have a friend who can help out with the coding and get us up and running. But first things first: how are you doing? Are you ready for this afternoon? Today's the big day, right? Ready for your close-up?"
"As ready as I'll ever be, I guess. I just don't want to sound like a spaz."
"Maybe we can practice a little. I could ask you some questions and you could practice your answers on me."
"Sure. Thanks, Bryce. That would be great. Thanks for everything."
She almost says more but stops herself.
"And there's coffee," adds Bryce. "I can make some eggs. Just give the word. Man. It's already a hundred out there it seems like. And you know what they're saying about the weather. It's not like it used to be."
"And when you can't count on the weather, then what?"
"All the earthquakes and power outages we've been having, too. On the drive over this morning there was a story on the radio about streaks of light in the sky, meteor showers maybe, out in the desert, near Joshua Tree. At this rate, we might not make it to January."
Inside Anabelle's bedroom the woman from Bellingham begins to weep. This is not uncommon. People cry, they fall to their knees in outright supplication. Some faint. Karen understands and doesn't understand. She's trying, though. They come and they keep coming and they are different after. Changed. What else can she do but open her door? Some days she thinks there are more visitors than the previous day, some days she thinks less, that it's finally dying down. But it never does. This is permanent. This is reality now. She's never used the phrase "life's work" — one of those concepts that she thought applied to lawyers and doctors and teachers but not to her. But it's beginning to feel like that. Like this is what she was meant to do. People were even starting to leave donations.
Before: she didn't expect much to come of her life. After: she's seriously reconsidering.
IT'S HER FIRST real interview and so she's picking cuticles and nibbling on nails as she waits for the Eyewitness News van to arrive. They're late. Also: the constant reconsiderations of clothing, hair, lipstick shade, etc. But why is she worrying? This isn't about her. It's about Anabelle. It's about everyone her daughter helps, those who come. Yet people would see her, Karen Vincent, on TV, note her imperfections and general blandness, and what would they think? There have been a few phone conversations with reporters, but never this, never an in-person interview with a camera filming everything, filming her. She worries she's not prepared, not TV worthy.
When the van pulls up she recognizes the reporter immediately. Doesn't know her name, but knows the face, the shower of blonde hair and drastic lips. Two men follow her up the concrete walkway; one, bearded, carries two cameras; another, also bearded, painfully lugs cables and lights and tripods. When they are at the door, waiting to be let inside after having knocked, she hears one of the men complaining about the other man's piss-poor directions: they'd been driving around southeastern Los Angeles for an hour and who wants to be doing that. I've never even heard of this town before and I've been living in L.A. for how long? The van is crowned with one of those large, elaborate satellite dishes, looking as if it could be driven from somewhere else via remote control.
A deep breath and Karen opens the door. Kellee Clifton introduces herself, hands her a business card with the ABC logo. She's tall, athlete tall, has movie-star looks and emanates a strong scent reminiscent of the high-end cosmetics aisle. Karen cannot bring herself to look the aromatic woman in the eye: it's too much, the immense gulf between them. Kellee Clifton does not introduce the two men, who right away set up their equipment and continue their grumbling. "Couch'll do," says one. "Light will be crap with that window," says the other. "But whatever. It's late. We're late. I don't even want to think about the traffic getting back."
The house, the neighborhood: not TV worthy either. And briefly, while Kellee Clifton ducks into the bathroom and the men adjust tripods and test lights and criticize each other's respective skills, she wonders about her interviewer's life, what it's like — the people in her address book, the late-night meals at Beverly Hills restaurants she's never heard of — but she can't picture anything specific (and she's never had a business card either, logo or no logo). Even though Karen has lived all her thirty years within the confines of Los Angeles County, she has traversed those otherworldly westside freeways — the 405, the 101, the northerly reaches of the 5 — only a handful of times, and she's never once spotted a celebrity in person or been to a party in the Hollywood Hills. It's all as foreign to her as, well, a foreign country. She's from L.A., but not the bright, glittery place that everyone imagines when they think of L.A. She's never been to that L.A. All she knows is what's east of the 605, inland, ordinary, where people have real jobs and real noses and real lives. No Kellee Cliftons here. El Portal doesn't even have its own freeway exit.
"Ready when you are, Kells," shouts the man handling the cameras, matting down his mass of facial hair. One camera faces the sofa; a second, the empty chair next to it. The other man — is the beard a job requirement? a union regulation? — walks over to Karen, takes her by the elbow, and then guides her toward the couch like she's got Alzheimer's or something. "Why don't you just sit right here, K? Get comfortable. Relax. This won't hurt a bit."
Are they starting? She must appear stunned. Because she is stunned. Kellee Clifton emerges from the bathroom, looking even better, younger, fresher. She must not have kids.
"All right, Mrs. Vincent," she says, taking her place in the chair. "We're going to go ahead and get started. I have some questions for you. We'll sit and talk, just like a normal conversation. And then after that, after some questions and background and back and forth, we'd like to get a few shots of your daughter."
"That's right. Anabelle."
"So where do we start?"
"Well, it's always a good idea to start at the beginning. Howard, are we rolling?"
"We are now. Camera one and two."
"So how about that then, for starters?"
"I'm sorry," says Karen. "How about what?"
"The beginning. How did all of this begin? Was it one day, all of a sudden? Or was it gradual, like a buildup, where you don't even realize because it's so slow?"
Kellee Clifton balances her chin with a freshly manicured thumb and forefinger, leaning forward, crossing her long, impressive left leg over her equally impressive right thigh, waiting now, waiting for Karen Vincent to speak.
AND WHILE SHE'S talking, while she's answering questions and explaining how the technical medical term for Anabelle's condition is something called akinetic mutism, her mind wanders. Where is John right now? What is he thinking at this very moment? Is he by himself? How is Anabelle doing? Is she wondering where her mom is? What's going through Kellee Clifton's mind as I clear my throat and stumble over this or that word? And the longer Karen looks at her, the blonder this woman's hair gets, the redder and fuller her lips seem. She pictures men dropping at Kellee's feet, devastated, giving themselves to her, entirely, in ways they never thought possible.
HOW DID IT begin? Simply. With smell, with scent. Roses specifically. One of her best friends, Marnie, was over and helping with Anabelle and asked where are the flowers. But there weren't any flowers. Her daughter's room and the rest of the house was, as usual, free of plant life and greenery, with the exception of a long-ago banished Chia Pet out in the garage somewhere.
"Do you smell that?" Marnie said, sniffing, nostrils a-flare in full bloodhound alertness. "It's so strong. Roses. That's roses. I smelt it out in the living room and now here, too."
"You're right." A sniff or two of her own, confirming. "I don't know where it's coming from. Weird. Outside maybe. Or the air freshener from the bathroom. I did have some flowers that someone brought, but that was weeks ago. And just a general bouquet thing. No roses."
They resumed changing Anabelle's nightgown, Karen lifting her daughter's body while Marnie removed the gown and replaced it with another, and Marnie would periodically stop and smell, stuck on it for some reason, at some point mentioning something about roses and the Virgin Mary. And that was that. And it did not seem like a beginning, but isn't that always the case.
This was after Karen had surfaced from her dark period, a time when she did not leave the house and did not let her husband touch her and eventually did not bother with the whole ridiculous, overrated charade of getting dressed and pretending that all was well when it was not, it was horribly unwell. She would remain in her robe for days, weeks, the worn, soothingly familiar terrycloth garment (tattered, baby-blue, the left pocket long gone) one of the last gratifications available to her. When the phone rang she didn't dare lift the suspicious device out of its cradle.
With the exception of Anabelle's room, which remained relatively clean and uncluttered and became a safe haven of sorts (the majority of her time spent there, sitting, reflecting, sleeping in the chair beside her bed, watching the relocated TV), the house slipped into deep disarray, spreading from room to room, like a series of smaller countries succumbing to an invading conqueror. The neglect was vast, impressive. Piles upon piles of mysterious, miscellaneous crap (now where did that come from?) appeared and did not go away. There was no place to sit or eat. Hallways had to be navigated like hiking trails. The coffee table in the living room amassed geologic layers of junk mail, flyers, receipts, unpaid bills, paper plates crusted with what once was perhaps melted cheese, missing-children postcards that she couldn't bring herself to throw away. Dust insinuated itself everywhere, seemingly with a newfound vigor, as if knowing that it could thrive in such a tolerant environment. The front- and backyards likewise ignored: rotting foliage, useless soil, grass as yellowed as straw. They couldn't keep up, always behind, always overwhelmed. The curtains were perpetually drawn, the windows always closed, insulating them from everything outside.
As for her mental state, it was similarly cobwebbed and unruly. The only visitors she allowed in were those who had to be there: Anabelle's doctor and physical therapists, the nurses, the specialists, the technicians who checked the machines once a week. And even then she had to work herself up to opening the door, to summoning a housewife smile, to making the minimal amount of socially acceptable conversation so as to give the appearance that she was at least functional, which she was not. And despite the fact that friends and relatives were chipping in and paying bills, plus occasionally leaving behind crisp, recently ATM-retrieved twenty-dollar bills, they were drowning in debt. Medicaid covered some of Anabelle's expenses, but not everything. John's erratic employment wasn't helping matters either, while they kept waiting, waiting, for the settlement from the hospital to come through, relying on the smoke and mirrors of postdated checks and credit cards, frequent balance transfers and skipped house payments. Her closest friends took turns delivering food and TV Guide, and tried to be supportive. She's grieving, she's still in shock, she's getting used to how it's going to be from now on. Many kept using the phrase "transition phase."
But the situation dragged well beyond what commonly constitutes a phase — ten, fifteen pounds heavier, multiple lapsed magazine subscriptions, John having left by then. She couldn't picture the future, all the care and bills and sacrifice ahead. She wondered if everyone else had been right — that she should have put Anabelle in an institution. Maybe the burden and responsibility was too much, she'd quite possibly overestimated her capacity as a person. Maybe she couldn't do this after all.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Miracle Girl"
Copyright © 2015 Andrew Roe.
Excerpted by permission of ALGONQUIN BOOKS OF CHAPEL HILL.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
PRESS RELEASE ISSUED BY THE ARCHDIOESE OF LOS ANGELES CONCERNING THE MATTER OF ANABELLE VINCENT (AKA "THE MIRACLE GIRL"),
THE MIRACLE GIRL,
About the Author,
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I had a diffcult time getting through this book. Too much time jumping from one smaller character to the next with too much inconsequencial detail that left me losing interest. Ending felt like a big leap of time not focused on any detail that this reader hung on to find out. Disappointed
d tragedies they leave me wanting more in a bad way. This book was not like that and instead made me very happy. :)
Roe’s novel tells a story about hope: the hope for redemption, for love, purpose, and what people will do to find it. Set in 1999, South California, in the height of the Y2K fever, people clamor to an obscure house in an obscure neighborhood, a world away from the glitz and glamour of Hollywood, to see Annabelle, The Miracle Girl. The young, comatose child is said to cure diseases, ease suffering, help those in need and this novel is full of people in need. All different, yet connected by their mutual desperation and, of course, the girl. From Annabelle’s depressed mother and absent father to the neighbors that can’t conceive and the schoolteacher that writes a blog debunking the supernatural in his spare time, this novel expertly weaves these lives together to create a mundane, yet extraordinary story of human resilience. Roe brings 1990’s California to life, engulfing the reader in the sheer unpleasantness of the blazing heat, searing, cracked sidewalks, and exhaust of rush hour traffic. Cell-phones are certainly not a thing yet and people are still discovering the wonders of this new “Internet” thing. This book celebrates all the small, beautiful, unimportant moments in life that often go unnoticed but mean so much. This is a truly beautiful novel and was a pleasure to read.
I received this book in exchange for my review. I am not real fond of novels that bounce back and forth in time and between characters. I had a hard time getting into this story. However, it did get better the farther in I read. It was a captivating topic and I enjoyed looking at the way each character looked at belief in God. I think the little girl's character could have been developed more. I never really felt any empathy for her. I also didn't think the liberal use of the f**word was necessary or added any value to the story.
I think this is a really good book. Read it when u get a chance.