Cameron Harris, the protagonist of Jonathan Miles's third novel (after Dear American Airlines and Want Not), is in need of a miracle. And Anatomy of a Miracleis the funny, clever, moving story of this Biloxi, Miss., vet who returns from Afghanistan paralyzed from the waist down.
On a trip to the Biz-E-Bee convenience store for cigarettes and beer under the watchful eye of his mouthy sister, Tanya, Cameron's four years in a wheelchair come to an abrupt end when a surge from within propels him upright and walking. Told in a long journalism format, Anatomy of a Miracle reconstructs this inexplicable medical event from the before to the more bizarre after. It is a remarkable combination of medical mystery, satire and war story. Like Ben Fountain's Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk, it captures the long-lasting effects of war by focusing on those for whom war is only a tangential thing somewhere far away.
An odd place for a miracle, the rundown Mississippi Gulf resort town of Biloxi "doesn't mind the smell of fish guts." When word of Cameron's recovery spreads, the town is swarmed with religious kooks and pilgrims. The local Catholic priest, who's built his parish "like a cowboy: galloping hard to drive his herd forward, hooting at the stragglers, lassoing the wayward," is one of the first to visit Cameron and cajole him into attending Mass. He's a subscriber to the "Toyotathon school of miracles: that every so often God performs a miracle as a means to fill the pews."
Besieged by the horde of tourists, the Vietnamese immigrant owners of the Biz-E-Bee fill their shelves with religious knick-knacks--although this runs off the regulars who refuse "to wait in a line five-deep to buy a can of chew... [and] walk past someone kneeling on the asphalt speaking in tongues." Even a Hollywood reality TV producer comes knocking after successfully pitching studios: "You've got your God s**t. you've got your war vet stuff, you've got America." Amid all this hubbub, Cameron's skeptical VA doctor combs the medical records to uncover the scientific reason "this one boy managed to switch his transmission out of park."
While Miles can be canny and hilarious about the absurdities of all this miracle whoop-de-do, he also steps back to explore what it might mean if one's life were suddenly changed from hopeless dependency to the freedom to be "normal" again. The backstory of Cameron's difficult life and war years are revealed through the painstaking investigation of a "miracle verifier" sent by the Vatican. Cameron and Tanya were on their own after their father ran off and their mother was killed in a car wreck. They cobbled their shotgun house back together after Hurricane Katrina devastated the Biloxi coast. A high school outcast, Cameron buried his troubles in the predictability of the military, until his life was blown apart. Although he gets a miracle he never expected, Cameron finds that a return to "normal" is not all it's cracked up to be. After the laughs subside, Anatomy of a Miracle leaves one pondering all the "what ifs" in life.
Bruce Jacobs's review first appeared in Shelf Awareness.
— Bruce Jacobs
March 2018 Indie Next List
“A priest, a doctor, and a reality TV producer walk into a convenience store... Actually, the notable walker in this story is Cameron Harris, a paralyzed soldier who inexplicably rises from his wheelchair and starts walking in the Biz-E-Bee parking lot. Anatomy of a Miracle follows Harris and the aforementioned sundry characters in the aftermath and dissection of this reported 'miracle.' Was it science? Was it divine? Was it a hoax? Will it make for a hit TV show? Jonathan Miles' charming - and often humorous - novel explores the varying perspectives on faith, truth, and the unexpected consequences of the miraculous.”
— Lelia Nebeker, One More Page, Arlington, VA
A profound new novel about a paralyzed young man's unexplainable recovery--a stunning exploration of faith, science, mystery, and the meaning of life Rendered paraplegic after a traumatic event four years ago, Cameron Harris has been living his new existence alongside his sister, Tanya, in their battered Biloxi, Mississippi neighborhood where only half the houses made it through Katrina. One stiflingly hot August afternoon, as Cameron sits waiting for Tanya during their daily run to the Biz-E-Bee convenience store, he suddenly and inexplicably rises up and out of his wheelchair. In the aftermath of this "miracle," Cameron finds himself a celebrity at the center of a contentious debate about what's taken place. And when scientists, journalists, and a Vatican investigator start digging, Cameron's deepest secrets--the key to his injury, to his identity, and, in some eyes, to the nature of his recovery--become increasingly endangered. Was Cameron's recovery a genuine miracle, or a medical breakthrough? And, finding himself transformed into a symbol, how can he hope to retain his humanity? Brilliantly written as closely observed journalistic reportage and filtered through a wide lens that encompasses the vibrant characters affected by Cameron's story, Anatomy of a Miracle will be read, championed, and celebrated as a powerful story of our time, and the work of a true literary master.
About the Author
JONATHAN MILES is the author of the novels Dear American Airlines and Want Not, both New York Times Notable Books. He is a former columnist for the New York Times, has served as a Contributing Editor to magazines ranging from Details to Field & Stream, and his journalism has been frequently anthologized in Best American Sports Writing and Best American Crime Writing. He is also the author of a book on fish and game cookery, The Wild Chef, and competed in the Dakar Rally, an off-road race through Africa.