Anatomy of a Miracle (Miles)

Anatomy of a Miracle 
Jonathan Miles, 2018
368 pp.

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.

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. (From the publisher.)

Author Bio
Birth—January 28, 1971
Where—Cleveland, Ohio, USA
Raised—Phoenix, Arizona
Education—University of Mississippi
Currently—lives in rural New Jersey

Jonathan Miles is an American journalist and novelist. His debut novel, Dear American Airlines (2008), was published to wide acclaim. He has since published two more novels, Want Not (2013) and Anatomy of a Miracle (2018).

Early life
Miles was born in Cleveland, Ohio, and later moved with his family to Phoenix, Arizona, where he was raised. At 17 he ran away from home and, after a stint back in Cleveland, headed to Oxford, Mississippi. Eventually he attended the University of Mississippi where he took a writing class with Barry Hannah.

Finding work as a newspaper reporter and aspiring jazz musician, Miles met novelist Larry Brown. The two became friends, and while Miles didn't graduate from "Ole Miss", Brown taught and encouraged Miles to write: "It was an astonishing education. Some people go to the Iowa Writer's Workshop. I had Larry."

While Miles never studied journalism in college, his work soon found publication in a local literary magazine, the Oxford American, and he continued to contribute essays and critique for several years.

A friend suggested Miles apply as a reporter for The Oxford Eagle, and while the pay wasn't good, being forced to churn out daily copy gradually improved his ability to write more dispassionately about complex and emotional subjects. Miles claims he was fired by the paper years later for writing an obituary about a subject who had admitted regularly providing bootlegged liquor to noted Oxford resident William Faulkner and correctly reporting the fact.

Fortunately, Miles's writing caught the eye of Esquire editor Will Blythe, who published an account Miles wrote of an ingenious prison escape he'd investigated while writing for the Oxford paper. Miles had developed a reputation as a keen observer of Mississippi culture, selling essays to Food & Wine, Men's Journal and The New York Times Magazine.

He credits his early literary voice to his time in Oxford, Mississippi, but when Men's Journal offered him an annual contract Miles was already driving a moving van toward New York City in search of such an opportunity. (From Wikipedia. Retrieved 3/7/2018.)

Book Reviews
Miles…[puts] his characters through one absurd situation after another, but he laces his tale with moments of philosophical seriousness…. Well-drawn characters and… witty repartee help give the book’s wild and wacky events a very human frame of reference.
Publishers Weekly

Satire at its best is constructive social criticism, and Miles is perfecting this craft in the 21st century.… With sincerity and wit, Miles pens a strong, sardonic rumination on the religious boundaries of the miraculous. —Joshua Finnell, Colgate Univ., Hamilton, NY
Library Journal

Vibrant, bustling, and humorous.… Cleverly shaped as a journalistic report… Miles' tale offers a nuanced and endlessly entertaining exploration of the age-old debate between faith and reason.

(Starred review.)[A] rare and admirable command of structure and style,… his sentences are thick with data, wittily delivered.… An expertly shaped tale about faith in collision with contemporary American culture.
Kirkus Reviews

The impossible happens in… Anatomy of a Miracle. But it's what occurs before the astonishing event and what unspools after that will break open hearts and imaginations.… Miles's powerful prose nudges readers to seek the soft spots between faith and judgment, story and science, and fact and fiction.
CJ Lotz - Garden & Gun

[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.
Shelf Awareness

Jonathan Miles’ smart exploration of everything from the excesses of American popular culture to the deepest aspects of religious belief roars to life.… A vivid portrait of our need to believe and its unintended consequences.… [A] thoughtful modern morality play.

Discussion Questions
1. Anatomy of a Miracle opens as Tanya wheels her brother, Cameron, to their local convenience store, the Biz-E-Bee. This site is important to much of the novel’s action, being the scene of the seemingly miraculous moment when Cameron, formerly paralyzed from the waist down, steps out of his wheelchair and onto the asphalt of the store’s parking lot. What kind of atmosphere does this scene evoke? How does the routine of Tanya and Cameron’s daily errands speak to the circumstances of their life? Is it indicative of small-town life in the Deep South?

2. Jonathan Miles’s novel is set years after Hurricane Katrina, though Biloxi, Mississippi, is still defined by the storm. Where do you see Katrina’s lasting effects on the town? 

3. What were your first impressions of Cameron and Tanya and of their brother/sister relationship? Early on, their home in Biloxi is described as "starkly devoid of family history," swept away with their possessions by the hurricane. Did your opinion of the characters develop as you gained insight to their backstories?

4. What do you make of the internet and social media’s role in the novel? Does it reflect things that you see on Facebook and Twitter? 

5. What do you think of Cameron’s doctor, Janice? Is her confidence in science similar or different from the faith that other characters have in religion? 

6. In the story, there is controversy about what constitutes a miracle. How would you define a miracle? Can one at once believe in miracles and doubt the existence of God? 

7. Cameron struggles with feelings of guilt and unworthiness. Why do you think he feels this way? 

8. How did you feel about the way people tried to capitalize on Cameron’s recovery? Think of the Biz-E-Bee’s conversion to a site of public pilgrimage with its own line of spiritual novelties for sale, or the reality television show, Miracle Man. Do you agree or disagree with attempts to make money off of Cameron’s life?

9. How do Cameron and Darmarkus react to postwar life and adapt to their injured bodies? Cameron agonizes over life’s what-ifs while Damarkus settles with what is. Does Damarkus exhibit acceptance for what happened? Does Cameron? 

10. How did you react to the revelation about Cameron’s sexuality? Discuss the implications that this had for the public’s perception of Cameron. In light of this, why did many choose to denounce his recovery as a sign of divine intervention?

11. As an adolescent, Cameron recognizes that he is attracted to boys and not girls, but does not identify as "gay" because of the negative perceptions at his school and in popular culture. What do you think this struggle might have been like for him?

12. Tanya believes that a cocktail of antidepressants, sleeping aids, and anti-anxiety medication saved her brother’s life following his return from Afghanistan. How does this compare to the Cameron’s self-medication with alcohol and nonprescription drugs? Why are Tanya and Janice concerned when Cameron stops taking his medication?

13. What do you think of the reported style of the novel? How do you think the blend of fact and fiction reflects current cultural preoccupations with truth?

14. Honeybun chastises Griffin for wanting to represent Cameron’s recovery as a metaphor for self-acceptance. Did you read the "miracle" as a metaphor?

15. The last figure that we witness visiting the Biz-E-Bee tells Quŷnh that he prays for "love and understanding." How do you think this message applies to the story overall? 

16. Toward the novel’s end, Janice’s father, Winston Lorimar discusses science and religion with his daughter, arguing that storytelling is a way of understanding the world whether or not you believe in God. Do you agree with him? 

17. Having finished reading the novel, do you think it "really matters" whether or not Cameron’s recovery was a miracle?
(Questions issued by the publishers.)

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