Anatomy of a Miracle

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 27 Jun 2018

Member Reviews

Anatomy of a Miracle by Jonathan Miles is unique in that it presents fiction as a researched nonfictional piece of writing. In the day and age of "fake news" claims being bandied around, this book is in essence exactly that. It is fiction presented as news. Creative or dangerous in today's environment? I leave you to decide. This book is a slow read because the journalistic approach leads to a lot of details not essential to the plot. However, the book leaves me with a lot to think about. 

Read my complete review at 

Reviewed for NetGalley
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Heartwarming and witty, this portrait of a paralyzed army vet who regains the use of his legs is a portrait of how religion collides with science and popular culture.  Jonathan Miles who has written two other NY Times noteworthy books has done it again with this not to be missed novel.
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I really struggled to get into this, and after several attempts am going to hold off finishing it for now - I think I may revisit it in a few months as I really liked the randomness of the plot and the richness of the language. Something about it is just not clicking for me right now though.
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A story about the riddles of the human heart, the contradictions we carry, the wounds seen and unseen, and the many sides to a story. Haunting and humble,  This book ostensibly deals with what constitutes a miracle, but ultimately it deals with what constitutes a human being.
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Anatomy of a Miracle is a fictional account of a war veteran, previously paralyzed while in service, being the recipient of a miracle. The miracle is this: when Cameron is in the parking lot, he is able to get out of his wheelchair and walk for the first time in years. As the title suggests, this book concerns the ripples from this incredible happening. It ends up becoming less of Cameron regaining his mobility, and more of how Cameron regaining his mobility affects everyone around him. This, I found highly fascinating. This book asked the tough questions while also not providing answers. Questions like, is there a creator? If there was a creator, then why did he choose to "heal" Cameron and not anyone else? Does Cameron have a special connection with the creator because of this? The author goes on to stack on these questions and perspectives on people facing these questions without providing hard answers, which I enjoyed.
However, I do think that the book could have followed a more solid theme. I feel like the segment where Cameron ended up on TV could have been better handled, so it didn't affect the book's adherement to the its theme. I very much think that the TV director's perspective did not provide much to the text, in fact, he seemed very detached from Cameron's situation except for a financial matter. While this could be interesting, I don't think it was written in a way that brought on interest.
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It was as if I was reading a true account of what people were claiming to be a miracle. Cameron Harris is paralyzed from the waist down after being hit with shrapnel while on duty in Afghanistan. One afternoon in front of a convenience store in Biloxi, MS, he gets up out of his wheelchair and walks, something he hasn’t been able to do for four years. This is isn’t just Cameron’s story. It soon becomes evident that this is also about a cast of other characters and that there so many layers here. This is about faith or lack of, in some ways, about the inexplicable ,but this is not a preachy quest for conversion. It felt like an expose of society in many ways. - social media, reality tv, the Catholic Church, and everyone who wanted a piece of the action, a connection to Cameron and what happened to him. The head of the VA hospital wants credit for his recovery.  Father Ace and the Vatican Representative want a miracle proclaimed. Quybh wants to cash in on the notoriety of it having happened outside his store. The reality tv producer wants a hit show. There are some sincere characters. Dr. Janice Lorimar-Cuevas , Cameron’s doctor at the VA hospital wants to find a medical explanation and she genuinely cares about Cameron’s well being. The neighbor, Mrs. Dooley who believed in the miracle and just wanted Cameron to pray for her grandson. Tanya, Cameron’s sister has always been by his side. 

The detailed descriptions of these characters and others is one the things that makes you feel as if you are reading a true story, as we get background information on why their views on the miracle are what they are and what their motivations are for wanting to connect to Cameron. While all of this is going on, the author also gives us the background story on Cameron and his time in Afghanistan and the secrets he holds close. As Mrs. Dooley notes at one point things have turned into a “circus”. But the circus ends and life goes on after the miracle. I loved the ending and think Miles has done a fantastic job of commentary on modern life or really just life, whether you believe in miracles or not .

I received an advanced copy of this book from Crown Publishing/Hogarth through NetGalley.
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{My Thoughts}
What Worked For Me
Documentary Style – One of the things I liked most about Anatomy of a Miracle was the way Jonathan Miles told his story in almost a documentary fashion. The miracle that returned Cameron Harris’s legs to him and its aftermath is told about from some point in the future. The person telling the story has interviewed Cameron, his sister, Tanya, and all the other players in the weeks and months after the miracle. That person is now presenting everything that followed in almost a Dateline type of story. The entire book reads like a really interesting piece of investigative journalism, similar to nonfiction.

Story Grounded in Reality – Miles brilliantly ground Cameron’s story in actual events of the time including Hurricane Katrina, the war in Afghanistan, and more. As the miracle occurred and Marine veteran Cameron suddenly regained the use of his legs, Miles took his story viral on Facebook, Instagram, and various “news” websites.

“By week’s end, the story had been picked up not only by religious websites, such as Beliefnet, GodVine, and the Christian Post, but also by more mainstream outlets such as the Drudge Report, Huffington Post, and Buzzfeed…”

Interesting Cast of Characters – Cameron, grappling to find a reason for being graced by God, while fighting a host of haunting memories is the obvious star of this novel, but he is surrounded other rich characters. Many people laid claim to a piece of Cameron’s story and Miles gifted each with colorful backgrounds that brought them to life. Tanya, his sister, had sacrificed much in her life for Cameron even before his injury. She was a sad, crass, multi-dimensional woman. Vietnamese couple Le Nhu Quynh and Le Thi Hat, owners the Biz-E-Bee market where Cameron’s miracle occurred capitalized on it selling t-shirts and snow globes to eager religious tourists. At the same time, Hat struggled with her strong Catholic faith and questioned Cameron’s miracle. Cameron’s long-time physician, Janice, was the story’s most ardent believer in a scientific answer for his recovery, though she remained frustrated and conflicted in her quest to find one. Most memorable was Griffin, the smooth-talking TV producer who began filming an investigative reality show following Cameron and Tanya in their post-miracle life. Griffin was everything you might expect and more.

“But a villain to my thinking, has to have evil intent or else a reckless and selfish disregard for consequences – and I had neither. I did the best I could with the situation I was given. No there’s a villain here, but that wasn’t me. You see, this is what makes this such a Southern story. The villain was the past.”

Crises of Faith – Hat is not the only one in Anatomy of a Miracle who begins to question his or her faith. Cameron, himself, cannot understand why God gifted him with this miracle. His pill-popping, beer-guzzling lifestyle hadn’t been a shining example for others. More importantly, he knows in his heart that he didn’t even ask God to intercede on his behalf. People constantly ask Cameron to pray for them, but even as he agrees to do so, he’s filled with doubt. He watches the believers in the parking lot of the Biz-E-Bee as they praise God and ask for their own miracles, and Cameron struggles with feeling unworthy. Hat sees these same people and with each passing day, her grip on her own beliefs slips. Tanya fervently believes that Cameron deserves this miracle, but is that faith or love? At the same time, the Catholic Church is investigating Cameron’s miracle as the second for a man on the precipice of sainthood, all based on a prayer chain for Cameron started on Facebook. If it’s ruled a true miracle, will Cameron finally fill worthy? Will others believe? What if it’s not?

What Didn’t
Slow Start – This is a book that takes a little time to become fully invested in. It took me until about the 20% mark to really start caring. Up until then, I felt some parts that were drawn out and some seemed unimportant to Cameron’s story. In the end, the parts I doubted did circle back and play a more significant role in the book.

{The Final Assessment}
I really liked Anatomy of a Miracle. It was a smartly written story. The journalistic approach really worked in this book and I thought Miles did a wonderful job of weaving all parts together in an unbiased way. I also very much liked the end of Cameron’s story and that’s always an added plus. I highly recommend giving Anatomy of a Miracle a try. Grade: A-

Note: I received a copy of this book from the publisher, Hogarth (via NetGalley), in exchange for my honest review.
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Anatomy of a Miracle by Jonathan Miles is a novelized account of a true story. Cameron Harris' life has fallen apart multiple times: his father left when he was young, his mother died when he was a teenager, soon after her death, hurricane Katrina destroyed half of his hometown, he was rejected by a lover, and he became paralyzed while serving in Afghanistan. Now, he and his sister Tanya live in Biloxi, Mississippi. They are poor, but happy. Then Cam suddenly arises from his wheelchair and walks outside of a neighborhood store owned by a Vietnamese couple. As many times as Cam's life has changed in an instant before, it is about to change again.

Cam becomes a sensation over-night. The doctors at the Veterans Administration hospital do test after test to determine why he is now able to walk. Was he misdiagnosed before? Can this apparent cure be duplicated in others? The Catholic church sends an investigator to determine if this is really a miracle. People arrive from all over the world to visit the spot where Cam was cured, hoping to meet him and ask him to pray for their loved ones. And, of course, a Hollywood TV show producer makes contact and begins to film a reality TV show about Cam and Tanya. When his service record comes out, there is no doubt that Cam is a hero and the man of the hour. No one can get enough of him.

But then another fact comes out, and he is rejected again. In another of life's instants, he turns from famous to infamous.

This story both intrigued and infuriated me! It took me much longer to read than usual because Miles gives wonderful in-depth descriptions of what is going on - what the various characters are feeling and why. He is a very talented writer indeed. 

I am furious because as far as America has come in many ways, there are some things that still divide the nation. We have grown so much, and yet are still held back by our biases and judgements of others. Enough already!! Get over yourself!

Well worth the read!!

Many thanks to Netgalley and Crown Publishing, Hogarth for allowing me to read an e-copy of this book in exchange for an unbiased review.
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Cameron Harris is a patriotic young man who goes to Afghanistan and returns home paralyzed from the waist down after stepping on an IED. When Jonathan Miles's new novel, Anatomy of a Miracle opens he is back in his hometown of Biloxi, Mississippi living with his sister Tanya. Days are spent watching TV, smoking, taking the cornucopia of pills he's been prescribed, and drinking beer. It is on when of their trips to the nearby convenience store, the Biz-E-Bee, as Tanya is inside buying Cap'n Crunch, that Cameron gets an odd feeling in the lower half of his body, and then…stands. And walks. Just a few steps because he's been paralyzed for four years, but it is enough to turn their quiet town upside down. And much like the landmine that severed his spine, these steps blow Cameron's life apart.
It doesn't take long for the ripple effect of Cameron's recovery to spread. Initially, a local reporter shows up, which spurs a call from Cameron's VA doctor, Janice Lorimar-Cuevas, and a visit to her office where, as a doctor, she is at a loss to explain how a spinal cord could regenerate itself. There is no answer in Cameron's MRIs nor any historical precedent, but as a doctor she is unable to use the word 'miracle'. There must be some explanation and she's determined to find it. 
As Cameron slowly begins to adjust to his new situation the ripples turn into waves. A local priest shows up and subjects Cameron and Tanya to rigorous questioning that is the prelude to a long-dead American priest being nominated for sainthood. The owners of the Biz-E-Bee find their small store besieged with tour buses of the faithful showing up to stand in the spot where Cameron rose and taking photos of everything in the area. In response, they stop stocking supplies the regulars buy and go all-in on religious memorabilia, watching as they go from being near bankruptcy to making money for the first time in their lives.
The waves become a tsunami when Hollywood steps in and a director approaches Cameron to star in a reality show (to be called The Miracle Man) that will document his life going forward as he searches for answers to his healing. It's no surprise that this goes from possibly being of merit to Cameron getting veneers for his teeth and Tanya becoming the show's focus because she's got more personality. Filming takes over their lives, spinning them out of control until reality becomes unreal.
With such an intriguing and controversial subject Miles could lead Anatomy straight over a cliff of the absurd. Instead, he presents an average man who is not religious, but self-aware enough to know that if he's being held up as a miracle either he ought to have done something to deserve it or he'd better do something bigger with his life now. He chooses the supporting cast just as carefully, with the VA doctor representing the world of facts and science and an Italian investigator from the Vatican representing religion. Miles doesn't take the easy route of making them caricatures but gives both welcome depth and the same mission-to find the truth, as difficult as it may be.
How Miles draws together such a cast of opposites and varied beliefs is one of the best aspects of Anatomy. You have science, religion, and capitalism all converging on a 26-year-old man with a high school education who freely admits he has no understanding of what's happened or how it could happen or what it means. Mostly, he wants to understand how this could happen. What he is not ready for is people delving into his past and here Miles adds another surprising element to the story. One that doesn't rely on shock value or taking the easy way out. Instead, it complicates the story and gives the reader even more to contemplate-something I relish in a novel. Which is why, in all its messy, contradictory, humanity, Anatomy of a Miracle is an intelligent, humorous, deeply rewarding novel, regardless of your take on miracles.
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I am sorry to say that I didn't get a chance to read this book before it expired from my e-reader.
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4* This book is almost written like a true account of an actual event-(but it is a novel). Cameron, paralyzed by a bomb in Afghanistan, miraculously (or not) regains the use of his legs spontaneously while sitting outside the local Biz E Bee in his wheelchair. We get perspectives from all sorts of folks involved in his life, before and after his wounds and his recovery. This was a highly entertaining read, and I can totally see it being made into movie--which ironically fits into the whole trope of the book. A fun read, occasionally drags at time, but I ended up really enjoying it.
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Captivating, suspenseful, entertaining novel! This thriller kept me on the edge of my seat while I was reading it! Would highly recommend to those who enjoy this genre.
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Talk about impossible: a paralyzed man leaves his wheelchair, stands up and walks back into a life he thought he'd lost in an IED blast in Afghanistan. Jonathan Miles' novel, Anatomy of a Miracle, calls itself a "true" story/novel, and I admit, I was confused at first, wondering what this was about. It turns out to be a blend of many things, with a man at its center who appears to be a spiritual icon until people realize he's still a flawed human being. Recommended.
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3.5 interesting and somewhat sad stars

This was quite the tale of a young returned soldier paralyzed from the war in Afghanistan who returns to Mississippi and to the sister who loves and cares for him. After spending four years in a wheelchair Cameron "miraculously" stands up and walks at a local convenience store. This "miracle" is then front page news and the impact of this notoriety is shown as Cameron and his sister, Tanya, meander through the miracle workers bent on obtaining a miracle for themselves, religious, Cam's doctor who just can't accept the thought of it not being science based, and the store owners who for a time profit from this miracle. The Catholic Church becomes involved trying to find out if this is truly a miracle attributed to a Father Fahey who was supposedly the one who was prayed to by friends of Cam and on track to becoming a saint.

Interesting in its concept, this was a book that one could not rush through. It was detailed oriented, character driven and at times it blurred the lines between reality and fiction. 

Cam and his sister were not religious at all and surely a miracle happening to them seemed to defy the odds. After all these were people who hardly believed nor even stepped into the confines of a church. As Cam's story unfolds, we find how truly far away he is from the person one would think could be granted a miracle. You see Cam carries a lot within him and a secret that surely will portray him as a person quite undeserving of God's grace according to some.

Wonderfully written but at times somewhat long winded, this novel will take one onto a journey to discover what is real and what is truly in the hands of God.

Thank you to Johnathan Miles, Crown Publishing, and NetGalley for providing an advanced copy of this very different novel.
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This book is beautiful and I cannot recommend enough. Thanks for the ARC, Netgalley.
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*signed copy* Out March 13th, this novel tells the story of a paralyzed man who suddenly is able to walk again. I read it almost in one sitting. I'm so grateful that I was able to read it prior to publication and incredibly glad that I'll receive a signed copy through the First Edition Club at Parnassus Books!
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If you were driving through Biloxi, Mississippi on August 23rd of 2014, and happened to stop at the Biz-E-Bee store on Reconfort Avenue and Division Street that afternoon just as Tanya Harris walked in, and her brother, Cameron rolled up, you might have been there to witness the Miracle. Not that they’d gone there looking for a miracle, Tanya was looking to buy some cigarettes, and Cameron, melting in the heat and humidity of the day, had beer in mind to offset the weather.

As it was, it was Mrs. Eulalie Dooley who saw the ins and outs of all the days of this town from her front porch through her very own ninety-one-year-old eyes, which is where she was when Tanya left Cameron sitting in his wheelchair as she went into the small convenience store, across the street from her front porch. Tanya, inside the store, wandered a bit, picking up an extra item here or there, but it wasn’t even eight minutes she was inside that store, the last shoppers lined up for paying ahead of her had left by then, her obligatory chat with the store’s owners lasting mere minutes.

All the while, Cameron is sitting under the awning in his wheelchair, when suddenly he experiences an unwelcome and unexpected bout of nausea. It passes. Then reappears, this weirdly uncomfortable feeling moving through him. And then it passes again.

What followed was a miracle of sorts, no matter how you see it. Cameron, who hadn’t walked since he was in Afghanistan four years ago, wasn’t even conscious of doing this, as though his body was taking control so that he would see later on what he was capable of doing, despite surgeries and doctors that had told him otherwise for years. He walked.

Now, Mrs. Eulalie Dooley may have seen some things in her ninety-one years of living, but this wasn’t just an everyday something, this was something. A miracle. And because she knew she was witnessing a miracle, as this young man whom she’d known all the years of his life had risen from his wheelchair and taken small, tentative, shaky steps, and because she also knew it was unlikely she’d ever witness another miracle as telling as this, she shouted praises to Heaven above from her front porch.

What follows changes as time passes, and as time moves back and forth through time from Cameron’s school days, from his days in Afghanistan, and then back to the present as the media gets hold of his story and descends. His VA doctor becomes more involved trying to unravel this medical mystery as to how something medically / scientifically impossible has occurred. The media wants to tell a version of this story, and the media has its followers, who seek out their truth by traveling to this spot where this miracle occurred, which has now added souvenirs as those journeying there needed some token to proclaim that they’d been there. Stood on holy ground. Some arrive seeking a religious experience. Others, like reality television producers, view it as their ticket to a goldmine.

Somewhat reminiscent of ‘Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk’ for me, with the focus on those whose physical repercussions forever change the paths of their lives long after their return, there is a witty, satirical twist to this story.

Religions, faith vs. judgment vs. science, are parts of this story, as is how faith is viewed in present-day America, but the heart of this story is love. Parental love, sibling love and the kind of love that your heart recognizes as home.

I wanted to read this after reading the wonderful review by my goodreads friend Diane, check out her review:

Pub Date: 13 Mar 2018

Many thanks for the ARC provided by Crown Publishing / Hogarth
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Anatomy of a Miracle is a wonder. We are thrust into Cameron Harris's world with the exacting view of an investigative reporter. Within the first few pages, I forgot I was reading a novel and had fully bought into Cameron's story. 
Cameron, like many young men who are adrift, joined the Army. He went to war and came home paralyzed and battling PTSD. For four years he existed with the help of his sister, Tanya. Then one day everything changed. While waiting outside a convenience store for Tanya, Cameron stood up and took several steps. Then he took more steps. Soon he was in physical therapy rebuilding his atrophied muscles.
Cameron standing is where the story really begins. Cameron attained a minor level of celebrity and signed on for a reality show focused on him and his recovery. Much of the story is related through the lens of the reality show camera. There are also significant flashbacks to illustrate the essence of Cameron before his injury. The weaving of past and present allows us to view Cameron as a fully fleshed out character, not just a potential miracle.
The central question the novel considers is how was Cameron healed? Was it a miracle? Was it a medical anomaly? Does an answer really matter for Cameron?
I enjoyed Anatomy of A Miracle tremendously and definitely recommend reading it.
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i would recommend this book to readers interested in this topic.
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