In her messy, visceral debut novel, Hamilton-based author Amanda Leduc addresses age-old Catholic obsessions of good and evil, right and wrong, free will and predetermination. By turns enchanting and frustrating, The Miracles of Ordinary Men belongs to a tradition of fiction that explores spirituality, although Leduc views that tradition through the lens of magic realism.
The Miracles of Ordinary Men is structured as a diptych, with two separate but connected storylines. One panel features Sam, a Vancouver schoolteacher who discovers he has started sprouting angel wings from his back. Far from a blessing, these wings are physically painful and awkward, and Sam soon grows bewildered by the fact that only some people can see them. Following the death of his mother, Sam enlists the help of an alcoholic priest and one of his students as his life spirals toward a destiny he is in no way prepared to embrace.
The other panel introduces a young office worker named Delilah Greene (perhaps Leduc’s nod to another writer with Catholic preoccupations) who becomes embroiled in a physically violent tryst with her boss, a Satanic charmer named Israel. The brutality of their relationship is harrowing – the scene in which Israel clocks her across the mouth on their first date took my breath away – but there is something even more nefarious beneath it. Delilah has a young brother living rough on the streets of Vancouver, and Israel uses Delilah to learn more about him for his own secretive purposes.
While she displays great talent at the level of the sentence, Leduc does not maintain a similarly strong grasp on the book’s structure. There isn’t enough thematic call-and-response between the story’s parts, and by the time the two plots collide, their intersection feels like a contrivance. Leduc has a knack for writing in the mode of lyrical realism (it’s not an exaggeration to compare her abilities to those of Alice Munro or Douglas Glover), but her prose isn’t charming enough to make up for a literary construction that doesn’t entirely work.