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The Oregonian BooksWeek

Religion, morality, ethics at heart of Miracle Girl

Keith Scribner’s first novel, The GoodLife, was a fictionalized account of the botched kidnapping of an Exxon executive by a New Jersey couple. It walked a thin, dangerous line between satire and moralism but never toppled over, an impressive accomplishment that was achieved through intelligence and tight control on all the characters. It was obvious Scribner knew he had set an ambitious task for himself and equally obvious that he had the skill to pull it off.

When The GoodLife was published in 1999, Scribner was teaching at Stanford University. He has since moved north to Oregon State, where he teaches creative writing. His second novel, Miracle Girl, has a more conventional first-person narrative structure than The GoodLife but is similar in its edgy subject matter and treatment of morality and ethics.

The hero, John Fitzgerald Kennedy Quinn, is a real-estate manager for the Catholic diocese in Hudson City, a gritty, seen-better-days industrial town in upstate New York. Quinn is a little cynical and more than a little burned-out. He dislikes his job. He suspects his girlfriend is having an Internet affair. He’s being forced by a friend into a real-estate deal that’s testing his limits and his scruples.

With that stage set, Scribner introduces the miracle girl of the title, a 30-year-old Vietnamese American named Sue Phong who appears to the residents of Hudson City in their dreams. Those who see her find that their ailments, up to and including deafness, are cured. A frenzy ensues.

Church officials, particularly a most skeptical bishop, are not amused by this miracle-girl business and enlist Quinn in their efforts to find and debunk Sue Phong. She’s become too much of a sensation, even though nobody has really seen her.

Well, almost nobody. Quinn’s encounters with Sue Phong force him to examine his life and allow him to look at where he lives and whom he lives with in a new, different light. Miracle Girl is a smart, savvy novel that combines emotional insight with a surprising dose of humor and establishes Scribner as one of the best novelists working in the Northwest.

–Jeff Baker, The Oregonian BooksWeek, 8/24/03