Thursday, March 8, 2018

Anatomy of a Miracle: What does one do after experiencing a miracle?

After reading Emily's (aka As the Crowe Flies and Reads) review of Anatomy of a Miracle by Jonathan Miles, I immediately hopped over to NetGalley to see if I could get my hands on a copy and lo and behold, I was successful. In exchange for an honest review, I got the book and was not disappointed.

Had it not been for Emily's review, I probably would have passed over this without looking at it too closely. I mean, with that title, it seems like it would be a religious, feel-good type Hallmark-style story and while there's nothing wrong with those, they aren't typically my cup o' tea. Luckily for me (and I suppose unluckily for anyone looking for that sort of story) that isn't the case here. Oh it is about miracles and the military, sure but there's so much more going on.

Presented as a true account (with an asterisk that hahaha, no, this is actually fiction), Miles tells the story of Cameron Harris, paralyzed four years prior in Afghanistan, suddenly and for no discernible reason, is able to walk again. He's waiting for his sister Tanya outside a local convenience store in their small Mississippi town when he stands up.

And from here, the story takes off. Was it a miracle? Many seem to think so and the Biz-E-Bee store becomes something of a spectacle for pilgrims passing through and the proprietors understandably making the best of the situation ("like someone opened a Cracker Barrel at Lourdes"). The Catholic Church also seems to think it's possible and investigators are dispatched to look into the claims, including an actual devil's advocate (advocatus diaboli) because of course the Catholic Church would have that.

Of course Cameron's doctor has a very different view. That doesn't mean she knows what the cause of his sudden healing is, only that as a woman of science, miracles don't count for much.

And naturally, as the story is set in modern times, there's a reality TV show.

At the center of all of this is Cameron and his sister trying to make sense of what happened, how it happened, and what do they do now?

The reason the story works as well as it does is the characters. Everyone, from the major to the minor, are fleshed out characters. They are interesting, they are complex, they feel real. At no point did a character feel like their actions were only there to advance the plot. And I loved and cared about so many of them.

Some of the descriptions were wonderful
His eyes, however, cast a different spell: They're wide and large like his sister's, with a peculiar boyishness to them, as though his eyes retired their development at puberty while the rest of his features forged ahead. 
And sometimes they could become a little much. Though once I got familiar with his writing style, I enjoyed it more.

As I mentioned, the story is presented as if it is a journalistic nonfiction account of events and while I enjoyed having such a wide purview, I didn't really think this was a necessary conceit. That said, I don't think it hurt the story either, so whatever, go forth.

Overall a book I'm very happy to have read and one I would recommend to anyone looking for some literary fiction in a way I haven't quite seen before.

Gif rating:
Title quote from location 562

Miles, Jonathan. Anatomy of a Miracle. Hogarth, 2018. NetGalley