Jonathan Miles places an unprepossessing character at the center of his sharply satirical novel, ANATOMY OF A MIRACLE. His hero, Cameron Harris, is a cypher, hardly the kind of guy anyone would expect to set off an international cause celebre. But that’s just what he does.
The novel begins on an inauspicious day in August as Cameron sits in the parking lot of a Biz-E-Bee convenience store—a locale as unexceptional as Cameron himself. After a few minutes, with his sister inside picking up cigarettes, he stands up and walks around the parking lot.
With this seemingly unremarkable act (though for Cameron it’s anything but unremarkable), Cameron sparks a worldwide uproar. Wounded in Afghanistan, Cameron lost the use of both legs and has spent the last four years in a wheelchair. But on this hot humid day in Biloxi, Mississippi, a strange sensation builds up inside him, prompting him to push himself up out of his chair and take his first halting steps.
And just like that—Cameron becomes a living, walking miracle!
Medically, his action is an impossibility: Cameron was never expected to walk again—ever. No explanation can be found, try as his doctors might to come up with one. They’re stumped. The best explanation medicine can offer is that “somehow, it happened.”
Almost immediately, the media, the Catholic Church, Hollywood, and thousands of ordinary citizens are all over this story: everyone wants a piece of Cameron—the Church to prove he is a miracle, Hollywood to produce a hit TV show, and the populace to alleviate their own sufferings. Even the Biz-E-Bee gets in on the act, pandering to busloads of tourists to who pull into the now famous parking lot.
And so what at first seems a beautiful, beneficent mystery explodes into a spectacle—at times hilarious—of greed and self-interest. Anatomy of a Miracle highlights the tawdriness and divisiveness of today’s culture; in fact, the way in which characters view Cameron becomes a Rorschach test—defining who they are rather than the event itself.
MIles is a prodigiously talented writer. He writes in an onrush of words: dense, fast-flowing, even propulsive. His style reminds me of Faulkner, whose name is actually mentioned in passing. But as thick as his words are, they’re calibrated to stunning effect as they carve out a character’s actions or inner-most thoughts. Here’s a favorite line, describing a Hollywood producer:
She emits statements like smoke rings, pausing afterward to admire their passage through the air and expecting others to do likewise.
If you’re looking for fast action, this may not be your book. Instead, Miles has written an acutely observed novel about us—about who we are as a society—and how our longing for “places of enchantment” rubs up against our conflicting desire for the cold logic of science. All of us want assurances that we matter to God and to the universe, yet we also crave the relief from pain and suffering that comes from secular, evidentiary knowledge.
So is Cameron’s cure a divine miracle … or a yet-to-be-understood medical phenomenon? In this novel, as in life, no easy answers appear. The novel simply poses the question—science or faith?
And Cameron? While he’s not a well-developed character, others surrounding him are wonderfully drawn. Cameron himself (as his name suggests) is like a camera through which we focus on others. Or using another metaphor, he is the eye of the storm, enabling us to watch the madness that swirls around him. I love, absolutely love, this book.
A former college English instructor, Molly developed LitLovers after teaching an online literature course several years ago. It was so much fun—even the students loved it—that she decided to take it public. If Molly’s not working on LitLovers, she’s sleeping.