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A Novel

Written by Brian StrauseAuthor Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by Brian Strause



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On Sale: December 18, 2007
Pages: 384 | ISBN: 978-0-307-41599-8
Published by : Ballantine Books Ballantine Group

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Synopsis|Excerpt

Synopsis

In this disarming debut, Brian Strause has written a vastly entertaining novel about an American family transfixed by a series of mysterious events. From a comfortable suburb of Columbus, Ohio, emerges a story of rebellion, faith and hope, bridging the cultural gap between those who believe in miracles and those who wish they could.

Monroe Anderson–as quiet on the outside as he is sardonic and alive on the inside–has spent most of his eighteen years trying to fly beneath the radar. If he can remain invisible, he believes, his sadistic older brother, a rising golf star, might not torment him, his workaholic father, a renowned litigator, might not notice him long enough to be disappointed, and his mother might not have to struggle so hard to find a hopeful word. The only people who glimpse the real Monroe are his girlfriend, Emily, and his eleven-year-old sister, Annika.

On the night of his senior prom, Monroe finds Annika floating facedown in the family pool. He dives in and rescues her, but not quickly enough to prevent her from slipping into a coma. As the family copes with this crisis, Monroe’s mother turns to religion, his father turns to liquor, and Monroe himself must decide what’s worth believing in, what’s worth fighting for, and, finally, who he wants to be.

By turns humorous and heartbreaking, personal and sweeping, familiar and extraordinary, Brian Strause’s mesmerizing novel takes readers on an unforgettable emotional journey into America’s heartland.


From the Hardcover edition.

Excerpt

Chapter 1

There’s a bow tied around my neck and I’m dying for a smoke.

Tonight’s the senior prom and there’s no way I’m going to get through this ordeal sober. I wouldn’t be going at all, but I promised my girlfriend, Emily. She said the prom only happens once in your life and I’d regret it if I blew the whole thing off. “Humor me,” she said. On the off chance she’s right, I agreed to take her—a decision I now regret.

I figure if I catch a buzz before I pick her up, maybe the night won’t be a total disaster. Emily always says she can’t stand being around stoners, but then again she can never tell when I’m stoned.

Besides, there’s no use complaining now. I have the whole thing lined up—the black tux, the white limo, the red corsage. I even rented a room at the Hyatt. It’s something you’re supposed to do, I guess. It’s not like I think some cheesy hotel room will make Emily want to sleep with me. I know she won’t. It’s not even worth trying. I probably won’t even tell her I got it. If she ever wants to go all the way, she’ll let me know. Her parents left her home alone for an entire weekend last month and she still wouldn’t put out. A hotel room isn’t going to make any difference.

The most we ever do is kiss, sometimes until our lips are chapped. Every time I try to push it a little farther, she pulls away and I stop. Supposedly, most guys don’t. Like the guys she used to go out with. From what I can figure, they didn’t take no for an answer and I don’t want to be like them, so I always apologize and say, “Whenever you’re ready.” You might think that makes me a good guy, but most people around here would say it just makes me a pussy.

I’ve heard people say that Emily was a slut at her old school, Fairview High. It’s only a couple miles away from Chelsea. News gets around and sometimes I listen. Not that it really matters. People say a lot worse about their so-called best friends.

From the very beginning she told me she wanted to take things slow and that was fine with me. After three years of high school I’d never even been on a date, so going slow sounded a lot better than going nowhere at all.

I’m pretty sure Emily doesn’t care about the prom anyway. She wants to shed her old skin. Going to the prom is really about making a new memory to replace the old ones she wants to forget. Deep down I’ll bet she knows it’s a big joke, but you’d have to ask her. That’s the only way you ever know what’s going on in someone else’s head and even then you can’t be too sure.

Emily doesn’t talk about her past much, just in bits and pieces. She once told me how her dad found her drunk at Larry’s down on High Street, sitting in some guy’s lap. Another time she got so wasted at a Beastie Boys concert she had to have her stomach pumped. She’s been arrested for shoplifting, but she won’t tell me what she stole. Like she says, it doesn’t matter. But if you put all the pieces together it looks like a blur, a girl out of control. She’s not like that anymore; so maybe going to the prom is a small price for me to pay.

My sister, Annika, on the other hand, cares a lot about the prom. Even though she’s only in the fifth grade and I’m about to go to college, in a lot of ways I think of her as my best friend. I can tell her anything and know she’d never rat me out. That’s a lot rarer than it ought to be. In a few years she’ll drift away. When she gets into sixth grade, it’ll all change. That’s when girls start thinking about boys. That’s when they turn mean.

Last week Annika was begging me to help pick out my tux. Not that she had to, I would have taken her anyway. Without her or someone else from the family in the car, I’m not allowed to drive. Dad says driving is not a right but a privilege. He says he’s doing it for my own good. If I had a gallon of gas for every time I heard that, I could have escaped to California by now. Dad figures with Annika in the car I won’t try anything stupid and if I do, he’s under the false impression she’ll report back to him. The truth is, I’m really not such a bad driver; I’ve just had some bad luck.

First of all, I should point out in my defense—and despite objections from the insurance company—that it was completely not my fault when I totaled the driver’s ed car. That distinction belonged to Mr. Bailey, the so-called instructor. The one who was there to teach me how to drive. He was hard to take seriously. After all, no one grows up wanting to be a driver’s ed instructor. In order to get that job, some serious vocational errors must be made along the way. Throw in the facts that he smelled like broccoli, never cleaned his glasses, and spoke often of Freemasonry and it’s not so hard to see how it came to this.

Mr. Bailey didn’t have too many driving tips to share, but he frequently ranted about how all the kids around here have been bred to be cogs in the machine and they don’t even know it.

Maybe I was going a little too fast, but I only wanted to get out of the car. Bailey was babbling on and on about how fluoride is the main ingredient in rat poison. “It lowers your IQ, crumbles your bones, and causes cancer. People think it’s the TV that makes everyone slaves to the system, but it’s the fluoride.”

After a while, he wasn’t so hard to tune out.

Later, Mr. Bailey would tell the cops, “I told him to slow down.” More than once, he said that. That’s the thing about conspiracy theorists—they never take personal responsibility for anything. Whatever happens is the result of some sinister plot.

Even though he wasn’t at the wheel, Mr. Bailey was in control. He had his own set of brakes. He could do what he wanted. Any objective observer could see, it was Mr. Bailey who panicked, not me. Had he not freaked out and slammed on the brakes, we never would have fishtailed into the plaza in front of City Hall, headed straight for a statue of our city’s namesake.

When Christopher Columbus hit the ground, his head fell off and rolled down Front Street. You might have seen a picture of it in the paper. No one got hurt, but everyone acted like it was a sign of the coming apocalypse.

At the time, though, I couldn’t stop laughing, which is probably why the cops thought I was drunk. But what was even funnier was Mr. Bailey. He was having a fit, wheezing about how he wasn’t going to be framed.

I don’t know why he was so upset. He’d only told me a dozen times how Columbus was a slave trader and a rapist and how if the natives didn’t bring him all the gold he wanted, he’d chop off their arms. Mr. Bailey often said, “Everything they teach you in that stuck-up school is a lie, a goddamn lie.”

The destruction of such an esteemed civic icon really would have been a wonderful opportunity for Mr. Bailey to initiate a city-wide dialogue over why our landlocked town is named after the seafaring Christopher Columbus in the first place. But all he could talk about was how I was trying to ruin his life. Like he hadn’t already done that all on his own.





I was wearing jeans and a T-shirt. It wasn’t really a big deal to me, going to a department store to get fitted for a tux, but Annika has always loved getting dressed up. Any occasion will do. She’s old- fashioned that way.

“Monroe, we’re going to the Lazarus downtown, right?”

“That’s right.”

“Not the one at the mall.”

“Yes, we’re going downtown.”

“And you’re going to wear that?”

The Lazarus store downtown used to be a pretty elegant place, unlike the one at the Chelsea mall, which is a fortress made of glazed turquoise brick. Mom calls it architectural vomit. But the downtown Lazarus is different. It’s like 1948, not that I know what 1948 was like; but when you walk through the cast-iron doors you could be walking into a black-and-white movie.

Lazarus keeps the tuxedoes on the fourth floor in the back. I wanted to get one in baby blue, just to make it clear I wasn’t taking the prom seriously, but Annika would have none of that. “Monroe,” she said, “you’ll look back at pictures of yourself and wonder what you were thinking. Is that what you want?”

I look at myself in the mirror and cringe as it is. I can’t imagine how looking back on photos will be any different.

She insisted on a classic cut. “You’ll look like William Powell and Emily will be Myrna Loy . . . or better yet Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire.” Annika wants to be a dancer. She watches those old movies all the time.

When I came out of the dressing room, she came right up to me all serious, brushed off my lapels, and asked, “May I have this dance?” I’m telling you, she’s going to break some hearts someday, she really will. You’ll see.

“Of course, my lady.” I know it sounds kind of gay, dancing with your sister like that, especially in public. But we’ve always danced together. It’s the one thing my mother insisted on, dance lessons. “There are a lot of things you can fake in this life and dancing is not one of them,” she said. It’s right up there with, “People always say dance like no one’s watching, but the thing to remember is this: they are watching and you can bet they wish they were dancing, too.”

Annika and I used to dance all the time. It didn’t matter that I have about a foot and a half on her; she could always keep up. It wasn’t cheesy, you know, like at weddings when you see old people dancing with little girls. She really knew what she was doing.

People at school used to call me a faggot because I took dance class, like it was something to be ashamed of. And it worked. I was ashamed. Being called a faggot will do that to you. I wanted to quit and Mom would have let me too. But first she asked me one question: “So what do the boys who call you names do at the school dances?” I told her they all hang around on the edges. They don’t dance at all. “That’s interesting. You’re dancing with girls and they’re not, yet you’re the faggot.” Sometimes the most obvious things go right over your head when you’re a kid.

We finished with a big dip and the clerks all clapped. It figures, they sell clothes.

Annika never worried if people laughed at her. She always assumed everyone else was in on the joke and I’ve always assumed the joke was on me. When I was eleven I was mortified if I wasn’t wearing the right shoes to school. But Annika just never cared what other people thought. Maybe if you don’t care, other people don’t care much either. Maybe it’s like how dogs only bite people who are afraid of them.

After they made some alterations, we got milk shakes at the old-fashioned fountain on the fourth floor. There was no one else there. It was just us and Sam, the old black man who works the counter. He’s been working at Lazarus forever. Sam’s a nice man, but kind of slow. Mom says he’s thick—just like his shakes.

“It doesn’t look like anyone comes here much anymore,” I said.

“They don’t, son, they sure don’t,” Sam said as he continued polishing the counter, not missing a beat. He concentrated his efforts on one spot, gliding his hands over and over it again.

I inhaled my shake, but Annika took her time. She said, “Mr. Sam, you make the best milk shakes in the world.”

He just smiled and kept rubbing that one spot, considering the praise. Then he looked up at us and said, “I wish I could make more.”

When I was a kid, before they built a new mall next door, Lazurus was packed on Saturdays. But sitting there looking at Sam, it felt like we were at a museum visiting a relic from the past, like the way they have blacksmiths banging out horseshoes and women spinning lamb’s wool at the Ohio Historical Society. If they ever close the store, maybe that’s where Sam will end up. In a museum. The mall next door—that was so new and popular just a few years ago—quickly filled with ghosts. New, better malls with more things to do popped up on the outskirts, effectively killing the downtown renaissance before they even had a chance to build an IMAX.

If you’ve already done the math, then you’d know I was seven years old when Annika was born. It was kind of an unexpected bonus—no longer being the youngest. I could hardly wait for her to arrive. I learned so much about the infliction of pain from my older brother, I was eager to impart my wisdom to the younger generation.

I spent my first seven years as an unwitting scientific experi- ment. Scientific, however, suggests it was all documented for a greater good. But nothing was written down. There were no lab notes. No charts. No graphs. Only a constant stream of misery. Dad always said our family was part Austrian, but all you had to do was see my brother, Ben, in action to realize our German roots ran deep. I could have written a book like Anne Frank, detailing the occupation, but Ben would have found it and rubbed every word in my face like broken glass.


From the Hardcover edition.
Brian Strause|Author Q&A

About Brian Strause

Brian Strause - Maybe a Miracle

Photo © Sean Twomey

Brian Strause was born and raised in Columbus, Ohio, and now lives in Silver Lake, California.

Author Q&A

A CONVERSATION WITH BRIAN STRAUSE

BB: First novels are often considered to be autobiographies in disguise. How true is that of Maybe a Miracle? For instance, the main character, Monroe Anderson, lives in the town of your birth, Columbus, Ohio. Do the similarities go beyond the superficial?

BS: This book is not autobiographical, although certain elements have been drawn from my life. While none of the major, or for that matter, minor plot points ever happened to me or anyone I know, Monroe is everything I wish I was and a lot of things I wish I hadn’t been at 18. We’re most alike in the sense that–like many teenagers–I led an awkward, internal life. No one had any idea what was going on in my head, and if they did they probably would have been quite concerned.

They say to write what you know, but unfortunately the life I’ve lived isn’t exactly chock-full of drama. And indeed, I grew up in Columbus on an idyllic street in a storybook neighborhood. But it’s not like Blue Velvet, where it was sordid once you start peeling back the layers. It was all quite painfully normal. Which is all to say, my own family–while incredibly supportive of me–are not particularly helpful when it comes to making up stories. There’s just not much conflict to draw on, so for the parts of the Andersons that were inspired by my own family or by people I know, it was required that I exaggerate those kernels of reality, and once I did that, any resemblance to their real-life inspirations became incidental.

In a lot of ways Maybe a Miracle is a sibling love story, but unfortunately I don’t have a sister. Writing this book, though, allowed me to imagine what that dynamic might be like and by placing his sister in a coma from the very beginning I figured I’d be giving an eighteen-year-old boy the opportunity to be reflective about that relationship in a way he otherwise wouldn’t have had.

I guess that’s what I like most about writing–I can put myself into situations I never would have the opportunity to inhabit in real life. That’s what attracted me to this story. I could throw myself in the middle of a so-called miracle and see how I might react.

BB: Your editor calls Monroe Anderson and his sister Annika “spiritual descendants of Holden and Phoebe Caulfield.” How much of an influence on this novel, and on your own development as a writer, was J. D. Salinger?

BS: Editors, I suppose, are prone to bursts of hyperbole.

As far as influencing me, J.D. Salinger wrote an absolutely incredible book. It was a gift to me and everyone who has ever felt alienated by our increasingly artificial world. It gave me hope at a time in my life when hope and optimism seemed pretty lame. Thanks to him and so many other great writers, I’ve come to believe that’s what novels are for–to show us the possibilities of saying yes in a world where it’s so easy to say no.

BB: The other author I was reminded of, in the wry mix of everyday Americana and the fantastic, was Ray Bradbury. Was he also an influence?

BS: No, I’ve unfortunately never read Bradbury, but now that you mention it I’ll add him to the list. I already have a bookcase full of unread books that constantly mock me. I suppose one more won’t hurt.

BB: Speaking of miracles, it often seems like one when a writer manages to beat the odds and have his first novel published. How did this miracle happen for you?

BS: I assumed it would take me quite awhile to find an agent, let alone get the book published. I absolutely dreaded the whole process. I figured I’d only have one shot, so I better not blow it. Fortunately, the author Madison Smartt Bell is the brother-in-law of a close friend of mine, and I had the good fortune to make his acquaintance three or four times over the last twelve years. He’s an extraordinary, gracious man. I sent Madison the manuscript, and he seemed to enjoy what he read. From there, he paved the way to his agent. I sent it to her in October 2004, and on New Year’s Day 2005 I received an email saying she would love to represent it. I couldn’t believe my good luck. It was an amazing way to begin the year. Then, ten days later, it was sold to Random House. In the sense that the ease of the entire process completely confounded my expectations, while not quite rising to the level of a miracle, it certainly left me feeling quite blessed.

BB: Monroe comes down pretty hard on the Catholic Church as an institution, as well as on various priests and other men of the cloth. What about you? I’ll take a wild guess and say that you were raised a Catholic. Do you have an axe to grind against the church in particular or organized religion in general, and if so, why?

BS: I was not raised Catholic, and, in fact, my upbringing wasn’t particularly religious at all. The Catholic Church, though, like many institutionalized religions, has a way of making itself a target for criticism. Monroe, for example, is especially disturbed over the Church’s problems with pedophilia. It makes it easy for him to dismiss the entire enterprise. In my eyes, it’s unfortunate that hypocrisy and organized religion frequently have such a cozy relationship, but certainly not surprising. After all, institutions that support religion are manmade, and as a result they’re going to be riddled with imperfections. No matter how good their intentions, people screw things up. It’s what they do. And while the men and (sometimes) women within any given religion’s power structure hold themselves to holy ideals, not only is it an impossible standard to achieve, but when they fail, they put the whole endeavor into question. I think teenagers are particularly adept at focusing in on life’s hypocrisies, which is why Monroe is frequently so hung up on the Church’s contradictions. The gulf between what they preach and what they do is too large for him to take the church seriously, which is a shame since, on perhaps a more important level, while resistant, he’s quite attracted to the power of faith.

BB: Do you believe in God?

BS: I believe in a power exponentially greater than our collective selves.

BB: What about miracles?

BS: Every spring I believe the Cincinnati Reds will be in the World Series come October. So I guess I do.

BB: What is a miracle anyway? I mean, it would help to have a definition that people could agree on. But is there such a definition?

BS: The universe is full of inexplicable wonders. In my eyes, life itself is miraculous, but according to my American Heritage Dictionary, a miracle is “an event that appears unexplainable by the laws of nature and so is held to be supernatural in origin or an act of God.” That said, since most religions conclude that God is our creator–therefore making life itself supernatural in origin–I’m always amazed that people will go out of their way to see a supposedly spontaneous image of the Virgin Mary under a bridge or on a grain silo, while on their way to that blessed site they pass by a million even more amazing miracles–from the incredibly complex movements of our hands to the intricate patterns of veins on a leaf to the beauty of the sun rising and setting. We’re surrounded by so many incredible gifts–the most amazing of which is our very ability to appreciate them. If there’s a real miracle, it’s that.

BB: Writing this novel must have given you an unusual insight into the whole political, religious, and media circus surrounding the sad circumstances of Terry Schiavo. Did that seem like life imitating art?

BS: Not really. While, indeed Terry Schiavo’s story is painfully sad and depressing, conversely, I hope Annika’s story is full of life. It was gut-wrenching to see Terry Schiavo turned into a sideshow attraction. Her brain had turned to mush. There was nothing there. In that regard she was a fitting symbol for the so-called “culture of life” movement who shamelessly exploited a brain-dead woman to promote their own misguided political objectives. It’s ironic, I suppose, in the sense that Ms. Schiavo’s brain waves and those of the people who wanted to keep her alive were functioning on the same flat-lining level.

BB: To reverse the equation, are the possible miracles that begin to take place around Annika, such as the scent and shower of roses and the stigmata, and public reactions to them, based on specific historical occurrences?

BS: Stigmata, of course, has long been accepted by the Catholic Church as a viable manifestation of the wounds Jesus suffered while he was being crucified. The Church has given the stamp of approval to over 300 cases in the last thousand years, and I looked at many different accounts while researching the book. Mysterious events that are accorded religious significance occur around the world all the time. And while I read about many strange tales of objects falling from the sky, I don’t believe I ever heard a story about a rose petal storm. (Now there’s a case I’d love to see of life imitating art.)

BB: In America today, controversy rages over the proper spheres of religious faith and scientific belief. It’s everywhere from politics to entertainment to sports. Do you think there is an inevitable clash between these two viewpoints? Why has it gotten so ugly of late, and where do you think it is leading?

BS: I don’t think the clash is inevitable–in my mind, science and religious faith are not diametrically opposed. There’s a place for each, and I’d venture to guess that quite a few scientists believe in God. Of course, science is about searching for the truth, and religion–especially in the hands of fundamentalists–is all too frequently about promoting dogma. And those are somewhat irreconcilable positions from which to begin a reasonable discussion. As far as religion moving into a sphere–like, say, the classroom–it’s pretty ironic that while we’re at war with Islamic fundamentalists abroad, Christian fundamentalists are promoting the kind of religious indoctrination practiced by Islamic madresses back home. It’s gotten ugly because some politicians have realized they can exploit faith-related issues as a means to gain power. This tactic, of course, is nothing new and they will continue to do it until it stops working.

BB: About the only traditional American values that come away unscathed in your book are pot, baseball, and George Clinton’s band, P-Funk.

BS: The quintessential American values are faith, freedom, and democracy. The ethereal delights of P-Funk and pot certainly fall under the banner of freedom. Meanwhile, the great game of baseball embodies our democratic ideals. Faith, though, is what makes this country what is, and I don’t mean that in a religious sense. It is Americans’ faith in the future–the idea that you can come to America and make a better life–that continues to bring immigrants to our shores and across our borders. We are all enriched by their optimism for a better future. In many ways, Maybe a Miracle is a celebration of faith. Those who have faith are repeatedly rewarded. When I started writing this book, I think I confused faith with religion; by the time I was done, I not only realized they’re two completely different things, but I surprised myself with how much faith I have.


From the Hardcover edition.

Praise | Awards

Praise

Advance praise for Maybe a Miracle

"As tender as a slow dance, as rebellious as a hip-hop song, and an uttery joy. Brian Strause manages to convince the reader that mere human life is the greatest sin and salvation--with room for belief, betrayal, the beneficence of baseball, folly, and forgiveness."
--Jacquelyn Mitchard, author of THE DEEP END OF THE OCEAN and THE BREAKDOWN LANE

"Brian Strause's MAYBE A MIRACLE starts out somewhere not far from J.D. Salinger's rye field, but it ends up in a new and strange and marvelous place where only this extraordinary first novelist could take it."
--Madison Smartt Bell, author of THE STONE THAT THE BUILDER REFUSED

“Laugh-out-loud funny, provocative and unique.”
People (****)

“Monroe is clever and quizzical. His observations are often funny, and he’s a keen and self-aware observer of contemporary American life. . . . The novel balances the peace of Monroe's mother brought to dozen of sick people against the damage her actions may have caused Annika, and it has the grace to leave such ultimate questions unanswered.”
The Washington Post Book World

“Emotionally charged. . . . The devastating power of this tragedy is brilliantly portrayed with both the gritty realism and sarcasm that only an eighteen-year-old boy can convey. But this novel truly stands out because of its singular premise: Can one family ever completely recover from a brush with tragedy?”
BookPage

“A wonderfully fresh voice that is, irresistibly, both profound and profane. . . . Monroe is a captivating narrator who will both delight and outrage readers while also making them think; nothing escapes his dead-on riffs about today’s tumultuous political and religious landscape. Sure to hit the book club circuit with a vengeance, this debut is highly recommended.”
Library Journal (starred review)

“Monroe’s voice draws the reader in. . . . Crisp writing and a multifaceted, likable central character distinguish this first novel.”
Booklist

"Strause juxtaposes the caustic and the poignant in his first novel...The metaphysical runs up against the mundane with darkly comic ambiguity...Holds the reader."
Publishers Weekly

"Heartbreaking and humorous."
—Somerset, Pennsylvania Daily American



From the Hardcover edition.

Awards

WINNER 2006 New York Public Library Books for the Teen Age
Discussion Questions

Discussion Guides

1. Why do you think the author chose the quote from Albert Einstein to serve as the epigraph for Maybe a Miracle, and how does it apply to the main characters of the novel? Do you agree with Einstein’s contention?

2. Beginning with its title, the novel raises questions about the existence and nature of miracles. According to Merriam-Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary, the word can refer to “an extraordinary event taken to manifest the supernatural power of God fulfilling his purposes,” “an event or effect in the physical world deviating from the laws of nature,” and “an accomplishment or occurrence so outstanding or unusual as to seem beyond human capability or endeavor.” Which of these definitions do you think applies best to the events of Maybe a Miracle, and why?

3. Virtually every occurrence surrounding Annika that is labeled miraculous by various characters has a scientific explanation offered as well, from the rose-petal shower to the stigmata. Does the existence of a scientific, rational explanation preclude the miraculous? If not, how do you decide which standards to apply and which to reject in evaluating a possible miracle?

4. Is there room for miracles in a scientific worldview? In other words, can a person believe in miracles yet also believe in the validity
of the scientific method? Are science and religion fundamentally at odds, as so often seems to be the case today in such controversies as the teaching of evolution and intelligent design, abortion, and the right to die? Think about this in relation to the epigraph, which comes, after all, from one of the greatest scientists of the twentieth century.

5. Are miracles proof of God’s existence, or are they just an indication that we still have a lot to learn about the physical laws that govern the universe?

6. Monroe’s attitude toward the Catholic Church and its priests is harshly negative, influenced by ongoing scandals involving pedophilia by priests and its cover-up by the church hierarchy. Why do you think Monroe is so focused on this aspect of the church? In your opinion, is the presentation of organized religion in the novel a fair one?

7. Is there anything about Annika that sets her apart before her accident? Does she seem changed in any way after she awakens from the coma?

8. Do you believe that God or some other force is working through Annika, or is Annika herself somehow responsible for the so-called miracles? What, if anything, is their purpose?

9. Annika repeatedly manifests the stigmata, nearly always accompanied by seemingly miraculous effects on others and every indication of extreme pain for herself. According to Father Ferger, the opinion of the Catholic Church about such cases, as Monroe expresses it, is that an “anointed few are here to aid in the redemption and salvation of the world, to serve as a living reminder of the suffering Jesus endured for us all.” What is Monroe’s opinion about this explanation, and do you agree or disagree with him?

10. Does Monroe do the right thing by kidnapping Annika?

11. Did you find the relationship between Annika and Monroe as sister and brother a believable one?

12. The author seems to be linking Annika’s accident and its aftermath with the murder of Heidi Morgan and its aftermath. It is no coincidence that Monroe and Heidi’s sister Allison fall in love. In what other ways are these seemingly disparate events linked, and what do you think the author’s point might be in associating them as he does?

13. Is Monroe a trustworthy narrator? Are there limitations to the reliability of his narrative, and if so, what are they?

14. Monroe plainly believes there is something excessive and obsessive in the way his mother turns to religion after Annika’s accident. Do you agree? Is her response a healthier one than that of her husband, not only for herself, but for Annika and the family as a unit?

15. Monroe’s mother turns to religion to help her deal with the pain and uncertainty of Annika’s condition; his father turns to work, alcohol, and an extramarital affair. What does Monroe turn to, and is there anything similarly obsessive about it?

16. Annika is diagnosed as being in “a persistent vegetative state.” This is the same diagnosis applied to Terry Schiavo. Do you think the parallels between the fictional case of Annika and the factual one of Terry Schiavo are coincidental or deliberate, and did your feelings about the Schiavo controversy impact your reading of Maybe a Miracle?

17. Monroe calls many American institutions and traditions into question in the course of the novel, but baseball seems to retain a purity others do not; it is surely no accident that Annika first starts bleeding from her palms during a Reds game, nor that she is “cured” of her coma by being struck with a foul ball. Why do you think the author uses baseball in this way?

18. In the accompanying interview, author Brian Strause makes a distinction between faith and religious belief, then goes on to call Maybe a Miracle “a celebration of faith.” Do you agree with him?


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