The Peculiar Miracles of Antoinette Martin is a touching family story of love, forgiveness and redemption and the first novel by Stephanie Knipper. If you can read to the end without tears, you are missing the point. This is one of those novels written expressly to grasp your heart in its hands and wring every last teardrop you have from your eyes.
Rose and Lily are two sisters who were raised on their parents’ flower farm. Rose was the pretty, artistic one and Lily was the plain one obsessed with numbers. They loved each other and were as close as sisters could be until their parents died and Lily refused to come home and help Rose with the farm and with her special needs daughter Antoinette. Lily’s rejection of her daughter was hard for Rose to accept and she refused to answer Lily’s calls asking for forgiveness.
But now it’s different. Rose is dying and she needs Lily to come back and learn to love Antoinette, to take care of her and be her guardian. To complicate matters, Antoinette’s special needs come with a very special gift, the power to heal. However, healing comes with a price, one that risks Antoinette’s life, so she needs protection from her own desire to heal her mother and the demands of others who might demand she heal their loved ones.
Adding to Lily’s confusion, her first love, Seth, is a partner in the flower farm. He broker her heart when he abandoned her to go to seminary. She’s not ready to trust him again, besides there is her neighbor Will who is taking some time off from his work as an ER doctor, enjoying life in his remission from lung cancer. He loves her, but she is not sure she loves him the right way.
The Peculiar Miracles of Antoinette Martin succeeded in its goal of making me cry more than once. I wept through much of the last part of the book, more for poor Antoinette who had so much to say if only people could understand and she could get the words out.
I have to take issue with the publisher on their description of Antoinette’s disability. The author makes a point of saying it is not autism, but the book description says she has a form of autism. According to the book, “At first they thought it was autism, but that never fit.” I appreciate that the author makes that point because people with autistic children do not need to be told there’s a special gift that makes up for the autism their children have. The whole Rain Man special gifts trope is a burden to families with autistic children who have no such seemingly magical gift. Antoinette’s disability and her gift of healing are fictional, and the idea that disabilities come with compensating gifts is unkind to those children and their parents who know very well that is untrue. That people learn a greater capacity for unconditional love may be a gift, but that is the human capacity for love, not magic.
The story is touching, but it is a bit manipulative and the author takes the easy way out. I mean, I could see the end a mile away, with every little cough and wince. That someone’s sacrifice is willing does not make me feel any less happy that the character was written in order to be a sacrifice. It was the wrong choice and made this moving and emotionally rich story more ordinary than it could have been. If Knipper had the will to write the story differently, with a different ending, it would have been a better book. It would have surprised, instead it only fulfilled expectations.**
Nonetheless, there is much to enjoy in The Peculiar Miracles of Antoinette Martin. There is a strong sense of place, the flower farm seems an idyllic place to grow up and raise a child. There is a loving story here, one that will touch your heart and even break it a little. It is not the story it could have been, but it is still a good story.
The Peculiar Miracles of Antoinette Martin at Algonquin Books. It will be released August 2nd. I received an e-galley copy of the book from the publisher through NetGalley.
** Some may think this is a spoiler, but it’s not. There’s more than one person who coughs a few times in this book.