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The Peculiar Miracles of Antoinette Martin

Review

The Peculiar Miracles of Antoinette Martin

If you’re anything like me, the atmospheric book cover alone will draw you into THE PECULIAR MIRACLES OF ANTOINETTE MARTIN, but it’s the prose that will make you linger. The publisher heralds the novel as being in the same family as THE LANGUAGE OF FLOWERS by Vanessa Diffenbaugh. More accurately, I think the true reader for this book lies in the intersection of Diffenbaugh’s works and those who enjoy Sarah Addison Allen’s stories of whimsical magical realism.

There’s a lot to like about Stephanie Kipper’s debut novel, not the least of which is the heart and soul of the book –-- the reconciliation between estranged sisters Rose and Lily. The surrounding cast of characters, including those in flashbacks, round out the warmth and familiarity at which the novel excels. One of the things I loved the most was that Rose’s 10-year-old daughter with special needs, Antoinette, carries her own point of view throughout the story. Reading her thoughts endeared me to her character and gave a perspective that, at times, gently challenged my perceptions of autism without pushing an agenda.

I’d wager that not many of us have ever been to a commercial flower farm, but you won’t be able to say that after picking up this book. The vivid imagery of the flowers and landscaping that the author paints is truly breathtaking, and Lily’s obsession with the Victorian language of flowers adds meaning that grounds the sisters in their life’s work. And if you don’t have the urge to make lavender bread after you’ve turned the last page, there might be something wrong with you.

"Overall, Stephanie Kipper has written a stunning and lyrical debut worthy of a read --- complete with complex relationships, deep meaning and, above all, loves that conquer all."

Kipper sprinkles flashbacks to Rose and Lily’s young adult life throughout the book, adding color and context to the modern-day narrative. While some of these looks back were integrated within the story, some were called out as entries from Rose’s journal from the past. Personally, I found that the writing for these entries didn’t differ enough from the overall tone to make them stand apart, and the plot device actually distracted from what could have been a lovely element to the story.

The tie binding the characters together was love sketched in many different shades –-- the love between a mother and daughter, sisters and friends --- and the list wouldn’t be complete without a touch of romance threaded throughout. However, in my opinion, Lily finds herself in the middle of a poorly drawn love triangle, and the ending seems to be a foregone conclusion early on, removing any romantic tension from the mix entirely.

The magical element alluded to in the book’s description was charming and added a layer of depth to the storytelling that drew me in. I did find myself wishing there had been more mystery surrounding that, specifically; there wasn’t much suspense pulling the story forward.

One particular surprise of note to me was the subtle story of faith that Seth, one of Lily’s love interests, explores. As a person of faith myself, I appreciated the raw honesty with which Seth processes his experience attending seminary, searching for the answers of the whys of life and yet coming up with platitudes sometimes common with organized religion. This plot point was handled deftly while remaining articulate, realistic and honest --- a difficult feat at the best of times.

I’ll avoid spoilers about the ending, but I will say that the pacing at the conclusion of the story was uneven --- much more rushed than the cadence of the rest of the book. And the ending was a little too convenient for my taste. I much preferred the complexity of the comparative THE LANGUAGE OF FLOWERS, if I’m being honest.

For me, the takeaway from this book (confirmed in the quote below) is that we can all relate to feeling like we don’t fit in. That we are the oddity rather than the norm. That our idiosyncrasies negate our ability to be loved or succeed in life. But, as Rose artfully communicates to Antoinette after she is made to feel like she doesn’t belong, “Everyone’s life is hard in some way. Yours just happens to be easier to see than most.”

Overall, Stephanie Kipper has written a stunning and lyrical debut worthy of a read --- complete with complex relationships, deep meaning and, above all, loves that conquer all.

Reviewed by Amy Haddock on August 19, 2016

The Peculiar Miracles of Antoinette Martin
by Stephanie Knipper

  • Publication Date: August 2, 2016
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Algonquin Books
  • ISBN-10: 1616204184
  • ISBN-13: 9781616204181