Local Literary Events

Published on March 20th, 2018 | by Nature Humphries

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Jonathan Miles Returns to Oxford Conference March 21 for Anatomy of a Miracle

With his widely praised novels Dear American Airlines and Want Not, Jonathan Miles established himself as one of the most insightful and original voices in modern American fiction. His exquisite new novel Anatomy of a Miracle cements his reputation as a storyteller of rare sensibility and intellectual curiosity. Brilliantly written and powerfully executed, Anatomy of a Miracle does nothing less than render the supernatural tangible, as one man struggles with the possibility—and the consequences—of a miracle in his own life. At once universal and intimate, transcendent and grounded, Miles’s unforgettable novel will touch your heart and bring you face-to-face with extraordinary hope, with profound doubt, and with the ultimate question: How would you react if a miracle happened to you?  

Rendered paraplegic after a traumatic event in Afghanistan, army veteran Cameron Harris has resigned himself to his new existence living alongside his sister and caretaker, Tanya, in their battered Biloxi, Mississippi, neighborhood, where only half the houses made it through Hurricane Katrina. But one stiflingly hot August afternoon, as Cameron sits waiting for Tanya during their daily run to the Biz-E-Bee convenience store, he has a strange feeling—and then 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. After a Facebook post by Tanya goes viral, local and subsequently national media come calling, and Cameron’s own confusion about what actually happened to him is lost as his story is no longer his own: Christians and truth-seekers claim his healing as a bona fide miracle—proof of God and reason to hope for their own healing; a charming lawyer from the Vatican arrives to investigate the legitimacy of the miracle in service to a well-funded sainthood campaign; the Vietnamese immigrant owners of the Biz-E-Bee convenience store capitalize on the flocks of pilgrims coming to stand where Cameron stood and purchase a souvenir; a reality TV producer swallows his dream of a serious documentary about Cameron, as Lifetime network executives scrub their protagonist into a squeaky-clean American hero; and Cameron’s VA doctor becomes obsessed with finding a scientific explanation for his unprecedented recovery, grappling with the politics of medicine and her own family history in the process.

Amidst all of this is Cameron—a lost young man struggling to come to terms with his unexplained healing and what it means for his very agnostic faith, struggling to keep up with the demands of his new public identity, and desperately struggling to keep a secret: the true story of how he happened to be in the path of a leftover Soviet mine while on patrol in Afghanistan.

The Vatican investigator tracks down Cameron’s commanding officer, Staff Sergeant Damarkus Lockwood, who was also injured in the blast. In a departure from the present-day tensions of Cameron’s Biloxi world, Miles renders strikingly vivid the story-within-a-story of Cameron’s and Damarkus’s deployment: adrenaline-fueled battles, cabin-fever antics, and jokey comradery, and the relationships that develop during an anxiously-uneventful winter spent patrolling villages in remote Afghanistan. In one of the most beautiful, heart-wrenching passages of the book, Miles describes the blast that injured Cameron and Damarkus: “Only his eyes had time to move once he registered the click beneath his heel. Cameron was turning back toward him. That’s all he saw, in that final green landscape: a turn that could’ve meant nothing and could’ve meant everything. His lips cracked apart. Boom.”

The truth threatens to upend Cameron’s carefully-maintained apathy, as well as the self-absorbed expectations of those around him. Was Cameron’s recovery a genuine divine miracle, a medical breakthrough, or something else entirely? And, finding himself transformed overnight into a symbol onto whom strangers project their own hopes and fears, how can he hope to retain his humanity?

Masterfully written as closely observed journalistic reportage and filtered through the perspectives of the vibrant characters affected by Cameron’s story, Anatomy of a Miracle is a brilliantly crafted crucible of current cultural debates: religion and science, identity, the celebrity of reality television, and the search for objective truth in a sea of competing agendas. Deeply grounded in time and place, Miles’s finely wrought observations and expansive, generous vision nonetheless engage with questions of fate, fortune, and whether there’s a higher purpose for all—or any—of us. Anatomy of a Miracle is a radiant new novel that will be read, championed, and celebrated as a powerful story of our time, and as 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 and 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 WritingHe 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.

Chris Offutt With Country Dark at Off Square Books on Wednesday, April 11
Oxford Author Michael Farris Smith Brings His Newest Novel "The Fighter" to Off Square Books on March 20

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About the Author

Nature Humphries is Editor-in-Chief of The Local Voice. Nature is originally from Vicksburg, Mississippi, but moved to Oxford in 2004 after spending time in the United States Navy. She has also worked in the restaurant industry for many years as a server and a bartender. Nature graduated from Ole Miss in 2007 with a degree in English and Modern Languages.



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