Hauntingly beautiful, Myths of a Merciful God, Cynthia Ceilán’s debut novel, is a breathtaking look at loss, grief, and forgiveness. Sarah Miranda, a single mother living in New York, has just suffered the single most devastating event a parent can imagine, the death of her young daughter. Completely consumed by her grief, she sets off on a cross-country road trip to the Pacific Ocean, the one place she hopes is big enough to hold all of her pain.
Though the plot has the potential to be unbearably depressing, Ceilán writes with grace and gentle humor. At one point, a young Missourian mother apologizes for not inviting Sarah into her house, but explains it “looks like Santa’s workshop exploded in the middle of a banana fight with a bunch of drunk monkeys.” Little nuances breathe life into the story, such as the description of the elaborate process for turning the shower on in Sarah’s apartment or Sarah’s methodical cataloging of all her belongings in the middle of the prairie.
Ceilán also has a gift for natural and realistic dialogue, particularly in the conversations between Sarah and her mother, Ana. Easily flowing between the two characters, the shifting tensions are palpable as Sarah is at turns exasperated and comforted by her mother’s concern.
The book is propelled most by its beautiful language. From the portrayal of Sarah’s grief—“Maybe she could stay in the shower…until she was able to breathe water without drowning”—to the pitch perfect metaphors—“Sarah’s last year of high school was as painful and irreparable as a botched amputation.” Scenes are so well painted they seem audible: “She lay flat on her back, listening to the clicks of the cooling engine playing out a syncopated rhythm against the night songs and muted chatter of the invisible creatures that inhabited this incredible place.” At turns heartbreaking and heartwarming, Myths of a Merciful God shows that even after the most unendurable of pain, life can continue.
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