Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Captivating tale lacks easy answers

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IMAGINE waking up one morning to find that you are growing wings: what would be the first thing you did? Try to see if you could fly? Or would you run straight to the nearest priest for answers?

In her debut novel of magic realism and faith (or lack thereof), Hamilton-based writer Amanda Leduc explores the themes of good and evil, angels and demons, and questions the existence of God.

Set in Vancouver, The Miracles of Ordinary Men follows the stories of two people. Sam Connor is a high school English teacher who has begun to grow wings.

Delilah Greene is a receptionist who has recently caught the eye of her new boss, the devilish Israel Riviera, and has begun a disturbing sadomasochistic relationship with him. She spends what's left of her free time searching for her younger brother, Timothy, who is living on the streets.

Neither Sam nor Delilah is religious, though they both have Catholic backgrounds, and each wrestles with their own questions about God. As Sam undergoes more physical transformations -- losing both his hair and fingernails -- he turns to his former priest, the alcoholic Father Jim.

Delilah, on the other hand, refuses to believe in God.

Leduc, who has an master's degree in creative writing from Scotland's St. Andrews University, draws many parallels between her characters and other works of literature. Delilah and Samuel are both names from the Old Testament and each name tells something key about the character: Delilah, much like her namesake, has a promiscuous past, and Sam becomes a prophet of sorts as he changes into an angel.

Delilah's last name calls to mind that of Graham Greene, the great British novelist who dealt with his own questions about God and Catholicism. Leduc also references Franz Kafka's The Metamorphosis, where, like Sam, Gregor Samsa wakes up transformed, and Gabriel Garca M°rquez, who is known for his magic realist style.

Miracles isn't the next Michael Crichton or Tom Clancy. It's a page turner, yes, but only because its characters are so interesting.

The mystery of the wings, Delilah's increasingly twisted relationship with Israel, and the truth of Timothy's disappearance from home are compelling enough to keep the readers going until the end.

Unfortunately, Leduc doesn't give readers much of an conclusion. The story lines stay separate until well into the novel. Sam and Timothy -- who, as it turns out, also has wings -- meet, and it finally seems like something is going to happen.

Except that it doesn't.

There isn't a tidy conclusion to this otherwise captivating tale, which may be deliberate because there are no easy answers in life, and there aren't always easy answers in religion either.

Kyla Neufeld is a Winnipeg writer.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 11, 2013 J8

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