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Miracle Beach - Erin Celello This reminds me of a Jodi Picoult novel. It was decently paced, clearly written, and compassionate. As a character piece, the first 1/3 (before we meet Glory) is compelling. Once she gets into the meat of the plot, the story goes down hill a bit: the characters are almost “too human” in their low self-esteem and self-loathing.

Ultimately, I think it suffered from poor editing. I really wanted to like it (and enjoy it), but I was very frequently pulled out of the story with minor inconsistencies (much of which are enumerated below). I think if it was more tightly woven I would have given it a higher rating.

When Jack is on the plane, he notes that he had “finished more than half of the drink, but had sipped it so slowly that the melted ice kept the glass nearly full.” This is not a true statement. Ice displaces liquid equal to the water that composes the ice. So, as ice melts in a glass, the level of the drink would stay the same, not increase. Minor point, but it bothered me.

When Jack goes to his first show with Macy, after helping to prep the horse “it was nearly ten o’clock, the show grounds had filled to capacity, and Jack was exhausted.” So, he offers to go get food since he hadn’t eaten since lunch. Huh? How is this 10 pm and not 10 am? Is the horse show really going to START after 10 pm? If it is 10 am, how did they have lunch earlier in the day? Again, minor but just irritating.

On page 212 Macy talks about why she stopped going out to dinner (or even picking up take out) because she is fed up with the pointless, repetitive conversations she is forced to have with sympathetic near strangers about Nash’s death. Then on pg 214 (a mere 2 pages later), Celello describes Macy meeting up with 3 of Nash’s old friends and says “Most people chose not to say anything about Nash”… in direct contradiction with Macy’s previous thoughts.

When Macy is going through the photo box (and finds the letters to Kat) there were two minor points that bothered me. First, she comments about having to sit on the cold basement floor, but this is the same basement in which Glory slept a few weeks ago on an old pull out couch. Presumably even with her arm in a sling Macy could drag the box over to the couch and sit down. Second, she refers to the UW sweatshirt as having been under her pillow since Nash’s death, but this is not true. She found the sweatshirt in the closet when she ransacked the bedroom the night Glory arrived. After that she slept with it under her pillow, but not since Nash died.

After a looong discussion early in the novel about Jack’s lack of knowledge on fishing (during his first of many fishing trips with Sophie), we get two contradictions. First, he tells Sophie and Glory that he can’t go on the boat because he gets seasick (even though he has been on a boat with Sophie many times and later buys a boat to LIVE on) and second, when Magda arrives unexpected in the evening she thinks Jack might be out fishing. Just more evidence of poor editing; the story idea is sound, but the details are too contradictory.

My last nitpicky complaint has to do with overall time. We know that Magda was drinking in a bar in 1958 (drinking age in WI at the time was 18, she has to be at least this old) and we know that Nash was 33 when he dies. The novel does not state the current year, but cell phones are mentioned and Nash loved to watch Goonies as a child (which came out in 1985, presumably he wasn’t more than 10-12 then) and Jack was in Vietnam (so sometime 1964-1968 probably?). Working backwards, it makes sense that Nash was born around 1973-75 and the novel is set in 2006-2008. But this means that Magda was at least 33 when Nash was born (quite old for a woman of her generation, and she does not mention that she was too old for more kids, but that she chose not to have them) and that she is currently 66-68 (which seemed too old given that Jack has not yet retired and nor have any of her friends..they can’t take time off work to travel with her). I was really distracted by these dates as it seemed less than likely that it would have taken Magda 15-17 years AFTER being ditched by Jimmy to find Jack and have Nash. But, I couldn’t rationalize Nash having been born much earlier than 1973 (with Jack away in the war and the whole Goonies thing).

I did not like that in the last 1/3 Celello felt compelled to throw a bunch of other stuff at the reader. Macy’s wavering over whether she wanted to mother Glory predicates her eventual decision to paint the spare room pink (how cliché and expected), and the fact that they both have experimented with self-mutilation just felt like Celello was reaching and trying too hard. There is already enough here with the death, divorce, adultery, and orphaned girl. We didn’t really need the added drama and it just felt cheap.

Overall it is rather short, compelling, and mostly well done (if poorly edited). Certainly worth the time as a casual read.