Author: Angie Kim
This book was recommended to me by a friend who reads way more than I do. It’s the first novel for this author, so first, I checked out the reviews – it scored 3.94 on GoodReads, and it’s labeled a bestseller on Barnes & Noble with an average of 4.3 in positive reviews. Given all that, I was disappointed to find it just a bit hard to get into the story. But once I did (about 20% into it), it was a page turner.
The story centers around an immigrant Korean couple and their teenage daughter who move to rural Virginia. They decide to set up a hyperbaric chamber business offering one-hour sessions of 100% pure oxygen to sufferers of various ailments that the oxygen exposure is purported to aid or even cure. I think this book might just as easily have been titled Secrets and Lies. The tragedy is a murder. A fire starts near the oxygen intake of the hyperbaric chamber (the chamber is like a small submarine in their barn). Was it accidental? Planned? Just a mistake? One adult and one child die as a result, and the fire is determined to be caused by arson. The search for the culprit and the lawsuit that follows are the basis of the story.
This is not really a courtroom drama, although there is certainly some drama in the courtroom. And it isn’t a detective story – there is no detective – it reads more like the writings of a focused journalist determined to find out who really did what. We read to find out who is telling the truth and who is keeping secrets. The whos and the whats unfold slowly as the story progresses, spending time on the actions of several different characters in turn.
The interesting and different aspect to this novel is the author’s exposure of the very private thoughts and motivations of each of the main characters, making the reader consider how we treat each other and why. She touches on how we treat immigrants and the disabled, the things we all hide from each other and sometimes from ourselves, as well as the toll caregiving can have on us. And she exposes the physical and psychological scars we carry and often hide. She even touches on the momentary evil thoughts we have about others, sometimes silently wishing them misfortune.
This story reminded me of an Agatha Christie novel, where at many different points in the action at least two or three of the characters could have “done it,” but it’s not until the end of this novel that we find out for sure which one of them is the real criminal. Read it and try to guess!