Blue Bicycle Books, Charleston, SC

Recommendation: Anatomy of a Miracle by Jonathan Miles

Anatomy of a Miracle by Jonathan Miles, Hogarth, 2018, 368 pp, $27


In the opening scene of Anatomy of a Miracle, Cameron Harris, a young Afghan vet, sits outside a Biloxi, Miss., convenience store, paralyzed from the waist down. His older sister and caretaker is inside, buying his daily beer and cigarettes.

Then he stands up.

It’s a life-changing moment, as much of an explosion as the one that buried shrapnel in Cameron’s spinal cord four years earlier.

The store becomes a tourist shrine, with financial and spiritual ramifications for the Vietnamese owners. The Vatican sends an emissary, angling to confirm the miracle as part of an unrelated campaign for sainthood.  A Hollywood crew makes Cameron and his sister Tanya the stars of a reality show called “Miracle Man.”

And Cameron’s doctor, an ultra-marathon-runner and the daughter of a one-hit-wonder Southern author (something of a mix between Truman Capote and John Kennedy Toole, had he lived) struggles to fit the regrowth of spinal tissue into her rigidly logical worldview.

Jonny Miles is the author of Want Not and Dear American Airlines, and was for a time the cocktail columnist for the New York Times. He’s a bold mixologist on the page — serving up a mix of fully-realized, realistic Southern characters. And he’s done his research, the medical and military material is thorough and fascinating. Miles lived in Mississippi for a time and he writes his hero Cameron, a poor kid who quit the football team and enlisted, with equal parts familiarity and compassion.  

Miles’ “Miracle Man” reality TV producer is himself a product of the New South, the kind rarely depicted in books or movies. He’s a northern transplant who grew up in Memphis, and he fetishizes his adopted homeland, decorating his LA office with all manner of Southern artifacts. (Miles, a regular Garden and Gun contributor, doesn’t say it but you can pretty much guess what lifestyle magazine the guy subscribes to.)

At my bookstore, whenever a non-Southern customer asks me “Where’s your accent?” I always tell them the South is a big place. It’s true, it’s a lot to get your arms around. But by slicing off a sliver and holding it up to the light, Jonny Miles has given us a lively and wide-ranging picture of a very real place, one that, like many real places, refuses to sit inert.

— Jonathan Sanchez, owner, Blue Bicycle Books


Join us for the release party for Anatomy of a Miracle and Jonathan Miles, Mon., Mar 26, 5 pm, at the Garden and Gun Offices, 701 E. Bay. St. 


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