The Washington Post
Maybe a Miracleby Brian Strause
Monroe Anderson -- as quiet on
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.
The Washington Post
"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 salvationwith 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.”
“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?”
“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.”
"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."
"Heartbreaking and humorous."
—Somerset, Pennsylvania Daily American
- Random House Publishing Group
- Publication date:
- Product dimensions:
- 6.60(w) x 9.22(h) x 1.04(d)
Read an Excerpt
Maybe a MiracleA Novel
By Brian Strause
Ballantine BooksCopyright © 2005 Brian Strause
All right reserved.
Chapter OneThere'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?"
"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 experiment. 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.
Excerpted from Maybe a Miracle by Brian Strause Copyright © 2005 by Brian Strause. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Meet the Author
Brian Strause was born and raised in Columbus, Ohio, and now lives in Silver Lake, California.
- Silver Lake, California
- Date of Birth:
- October 5, 1967
- Place of Birth:
- Columbus, Ohio
- B.A., Grinnell College, 1990; M.F.A., The American Film Institute, 1995
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I do not like the message that this book protrays. Luckily I got this book for 50cents at a garage sale so I am able to be okay with throwing it into the recycle bin (first book I ever put in the recycle bin). It bashes Christianity. I kept waiting for the pivotal moment when the charater realizes there is a God but that never came. Then Annika wakes up and she is an ungrateful little girl who also doesn't recognize that God is real. So if you are not a Christian this probably is a great book but if you are don't bother reading to the end because the main charaters never come to light. WASTE OF MY TIME!
As much as i liked this book i found it sickening and pretty much rude how many times the word 'retard' was used. it came to the point were i just didnt want to read the book anymore. truthfully i dont get the whole reason of that word. i never use it, maybe its just me or maybe its b.c my little sister has downs, i dont know. dont get me wrong it was a good book with a happy ending but when you're writing a book about God and faith why have a word like that in it.
couldn't put it down, funny, sad, though-provoking, inspiring
I really enjoyed reading this book. There were many incidents I didn't see coming, which always makes for a good book. However, after the climax, the rest of the book just fizzled out.
A wonderful book with slight tones of 'The Lovely Bones' and 'Catcher in the Rye'. A really excellent read, with thought-provoking subjects.
Maybe a Miracle is a thought-provoking debut book for Brian Strause. Many small but significant insights and quirky characters add to the appeal of the book. A very skeptic book, it appeals to sarcastic minds moreso than others, though a good read for anyone. While reading the book, many of the comments did make me stop and think... why is using God's name in vain more offensive to a Christian than using a vulgar word not tied to God? Monroe is an average teenager, one that could be seen walking the halls of a high school right now.
Seen through his sharp observing eye the teenager Monroe Anderson presents his world to us curious readers in a witty and sometimes unmercifully sarcastic way. We form a rather intimate relationship with him. He tells us things he wouldn't convey to anybody in his surroundings. Monroe is a quiet person and he knows how to stay almost invisible in order to protect himself. That becomes his main survival strategy. Moreover, also his isolation. I am sure that many teenagers will easily identify with his character. The writer Brian Strause employs his technique very skillfuly. He engages us quickly in the fate of the whole Anderson family and he keeps us interested throughout the whole story. Monroe's younger sister Annika has an accident with an unexpected outcome and we will follow the situation that presents a considerable stress to all members of the family and consequently changes their lives in a drastic manner. The book shows us how different people cope with a stressful situation that for them has life changing consequences. However, this book has more to offer than a plot. It is also an investigation about the nature of faith, shortcomings of science, unexplainable fenomena and it highlights also the limiting ways in which we normaly live our lives. All that in a very gentle and unintrusive style but with a persistence that can't be ignored. The novel is engaging but Brian Strause will not write the main point of the book on the black board for us. We need to feel and think for ourselves and find how the story relates to our own lives and the way we choose to live them.
This is not typically the type of book I read. I only ended up reading it because it was my book club's selection. I really liked the author's easy, natural writing style. I also found the subject matter interesting...family tragedy and all that follows. Unfortunately, the whole religious aspect and final point of this novel were lost on me. What caused Annika's bleeding? Why did her environment always smell like roses? What about the spontaneous action of the snow globe? If it wasn't God, what caused those things to occur? Strause is at once suggesting and at the same time denouncing an other-wordly presence. And what was the point of Annika's becoming a world-wide religious icon? To prove Christianity right or to prove it wrong? The whole religious aspect of this book seemed like a wrong turn...but I suspect to the author, and others, that it was the whole point! I despised Annika's reaction to her ordeal once she woke up. She hated becoming a spectacle, but perhaps she benefited from all of those prayers. And her treatment of her mother would make any mother cringe. Any mother who lost a child to death or a persistent vegetative state would do ANYTHING to get their child back. Blaming that mother for doing what she did is a horrific crime in my opinion. Annika's awakening was very anti-climactic. She woke up no wiser, no more grateful for life, and a bit too snippy for my taste. Her coma should have meant something much more than a 2 1/2 year nap to her. The whole story just seemed to unravel a bit at the end. A good first novel, but not exactly my cup of tea. I would read another book by this author and hope for a bit more purpose to the story.
What a gem this book is! With a story as fresh and bizarre as you could hope for, and a young narrator that views the world through prematurely jaded eyes, this wonderful debut novel carries readers along on a weird new path through very familiar landscape. Set in suburban America, the lifestyle and characters are known to us all, but the family tragedy that turns life into an everyday circus makes 'Maybe a Miracle' far more compelling than your average family drama. Monroe, the narrator, is a wonderful story teller-- his take on the events that unfold is cynical and wry, but with an unmistakable tenderness and longing for a return to normalcy. He wishes he could be more optimistic about the future of his comatose beloved little sister, but it doesn't seem to be in his nature. However, while he doubts his mother's certainty that Annika is 'still in there', just to play it safe he plays Parliament Funkadelic records for her, to balance out the Neil Diamond their mother is blasting her with. His voice and his actions ring true on every page. But truer still are the confessions he makes to us, the readers. He tells us the things he would never speak aloud-- not to his parents, who probably wouldn't listen anyway, and certainly not to his sadistic older brother, who takes every word or action from Monroe as a new opportunity to humiliate and abuse him. But as the readers, we get to hear the whole story-- his bitterness, his fear, and his hope, quickly fading though it is. I found myself cheering him on at times, wanting to throttle him at others, but always caring what happened next. This book is touching, compelling, and very funny. My only disappointment is the book's title 'Maybe a Miracle' is far too lackluster and simpering to really give a reader any glimpse of how cool this book is.
'Maybe a Miracle,' a book about faith. Faith in a situation, faith in yourself. About believing in something bigger than yourself. I can't say after reading this book if it was enjoyable or not. This is almost an eye-opening book whether you want it to or not. An emotional journey that isn't one you'd pick to travel. However, it's almost one of those journeys everyone should take. Whether your religious or not, this is worth your time. A tragedy strikes immediately in this book. The tragedy strikes just as the reader feels they have a relationship with the characters. During Annika's hospital stay her brother explains Annika's situation, and her diagnosis is horrific. This almost made me want to quit reading. I didn't think I could take over two hundred more pages of sadness. I pushed on and kept going. With any horrible family tragedy comes other circumstances. People change, attitudes change, your friends are no longer your friends, or you find your real friends. You 'might' find your faith. With the situation with Annika, we see what happens in this family, we witness faith and yeah, 'maybe a miracle.' A few times I wanted to quit reading. I found some of the 'miracle' that happened to Annika just so crazy. But for Monroe's sake I wanted to find out what happens to him, and he puts things into perspective, so I managed to hang on. I'm sure glad I did. I learned a little something about believing in miracles, believing in things when no one else will. Believing in family. Without these miracles in life, where would we be? An amazing book, sometimes difficult to stay with, but push on, it's worth it in the end.