Miracelle Loving's world comes crashing down when her mother, Ruby, is murdered during a fortune-telling session gone wrong. Not that she had much of a stable world to lose in the first place; the free-spirited mother-daughter duo had never remained in one place for very long. Without the guidance of her mother, Miracelle grows up following the only path she knows, traveling from town to town, sometimes fortune-telling, picking up odd jobs to fill the time and escape the ever-present lostness she can't seem to run far enough away from.
Uncertain of what she wants and, indeed, whether she wants anything or anyone at all, the now thirty-something-year-old finds herself working as a card reader in a Knoxville dive bar, selling fictions as futures, when she is confronted with her mother's ghost voice promising to reveal the truth about her shadowy past. Desperate for answers, Miracelle sets out on a magical road trip unlike any other, in search of her own story and a father she's never known.
Following snowy highways and backroads, Miracelle stumbles across a museum of oddities and a hole-in-the-road town called Radiant, ultimately wandering into the town of Smyte, where she begins waitressing at the Black Cat Diner. Here, she befriends card-playing has-been Russell Wallen, whom she joins for a series of nighttime adventures, long drives, and after-dark visits to a Holy Roller church. This mythical journey uncovers family secrets and forgotten truths, transforming a familiar story of love and betrayal to reveal the binding power of magic and memory.
"This book is brimming with haints, lives full of magic, and Karen McElmurray's storytelling is the most haunting of all." -- Crystal Wilkinson, author of The Birds of Opulence
" Wanting Radiance weaves a beautiful tale of Miracelle Loving's pursuit for identity, populated by tarot cards, southern diners, fiddle players, tattoos, and the sweet night air on roads to nowhere. McElmurray's dreamy language transcends this plane to bridge the liminal spaces between the past and present, life and death, who we were and who we might become." -- Liz Prato, author of Volcanoes, Palm Trees, and Privilege: Essays on Hawai'i
"In vivid prose that reads like pure poetry, Karen McElmurray has written an incantatory Appalachian gothic tale of love, murder, and restless souls, populated with unforgettable flesh-and-blood characters. Wanting Radiance is nothing less than a literary masterpiece." -- Amy Greene, author of Bloodroot and Long Man: A Novel
"Brimming with gorgeous prose down to the cellular level, Wanting Radiance is a magical treasure hunt through tarot cards and freak-show oddities, murder mysteries and voices from the grave. Readers will fall hard for Ruby and Miracelle, wounded nomads yearning for love and a place to call home." -- Marie Manilla, author of The Patron Saint of Ugly
"Reading Wanting Radiance is like inhabiting the best country music song you've ever heard -- the high lonesome, heartbroken, 'wanting and not-having' sort of song -- with the added feature of a tough, smart guide who sees deep and who can say, 'I ached with lonely and I wanted to be alone and I wanted nothing at all to do with my own self.' And that's not the only brilliant sentence in this memorable novel. I loved reading it." -- Josephine Humphreys, author of Nowhere Else on Earth (winner of the Southern Book Award)
"The memorable characters of Wanting Radiance brave long, labyrinthine roads in order to search for the ones they love -- or for their belief in love itself." -- Chapter 16
"Original, inherently absorbing, deftly crafted, and memorably entertaining, Wanting Radiance by Karen Salyer McElmurray is an extraordinary and unreservedly recommended addition to community and academic library Contemporary American Literary Fiction collections." -- Midwest Book Review
"A poetic tale of a daughter's quiet exploration of her past and how it pushes her forward. Part mystery, part eulogy, McElmurray's lyrical style transformed me from skeptical to fully invested in Miracelle Loving's search for identity, meaning, and love." -- The Rumpus
"Powerful and lyrical... A page-turner, but one in which the momentum is built not only on a compelling story, but on the integrity and complexity of its characters, the lyricism of each line.... Wanting Radiance is an extraordinary book by an extraordinary writer. It's hard not to see McElmurray in her story, in her characters -- the woman with magic in her hands, shuffling the tarot cards, dealing prophecy, showing us who we were, who we are, who we can become. What's possible if we let in a little light." -- Entropy Magazine