On a bleak January night, Margaret Quinn opens her front door to a nine-year-old stranger offering neither a plausible alibi, nor an apology for the intrusion. Thus, an elderly woman’s leap of faith begets a beguiling tale of those who love well, but not wisely, unspooling like a poem embroidered on the heart—ornate, painful and true.

Keith Donohue’s Angels of Destruction takes flight from the moment that Margaret allows young Norah into her home, ignoring the instinctive hunch that the orphan’s life history is fabricated. Margaret has been numbed by the loss of her own child, Erica, a runaway teen who disappeared with an anarchist boyfriend a decade ago, followed by the death of her physician husband, Paul. But her stoic resolve begins to melt as she starts to believe the visit by Norah is predestined, and that her role as surrogate grandmother is not so much subterfuge, but rather divine serendipity. Still, when the ethereal Norah’s pocket-full-of miracles makes her a legend in the classroom, but draws fear and suspicion from school officials and parents in the neighborhood, Margaret’s allegedly long-lost “granddaughter” suddenly faces social ostracism and exile.

While some readers might liken Donohue’s penchant for mystical realism to that of novelist Alice Hoffman, any sweeping comparisons shortchange both writers, whose immense gifts bear separate and distinct literary imprimaturs. Still, he shares Hoffman’s uncanny ear for capturing the libretto of childhood, not only in the preternatural Norah, but also her heart-on-his-sleeve pal, Sean. Indeed, the novel’s enchanting cast of peripheral characters possess tragic narratives of their own. They are sure to resonate with readers following the heart-rending path of a mother and prodigal daughter first torn asunder, then soaring skyward on the redemptive wings of unconditional love.

Karen Ann Cullotta writes from Arlington Heights, Illinois.

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