In this novel that purports to be written by an investigative reporter, a paralyzed combat veteran miraculously regains use of his legs, setting off an international sensation that enthralls the Vatican, social media, and Reality TV.
Part of the delight in reading this novel comes from recognition that this is the absurd state of things at this moment in our culture. (Or, to put it in more social media-friendly terms: #2018.) Each little detail Miles inserts about the splashy news coverage, the idiosyncratically punctuated Facebook comments...and the consternation of medical experts is deliciously on point in what amounts to a thorough accounting of our current national madness ... Reading this book feels a bit like holding an artifact from a parallel universe one probability branch over ... He... waxes eloquent on the beauty and necessity of stories, which is, well, a bit convenient coming from a novelist character in a novel ... But this is mostly forgiven, because Miles is a writer so virtuosic that readers will feel themselves becoming better, more observant people from reading him. Part of this is a humor that seems tossed off effortlessly, cropping up as it does in practically every sentence ... Part of why Anatomy feels so expansive is that Miles takes every opportunity to delve into the characters’ backstories ... In Miles’s world, everyone — not just the people shouting the loudest on the internet — is worthy of attention.
Because the genre that Miles is aping applies fiction’s methods to real-life stories, Anatomy of a Miracle offers the Victor-Victoria frisson of watching a novel impersonate a work of journalism impersonating a novel. It’s a difficult balancing act that Miles for the most part pulls off, and his book is best appreciated as a highly entertaining literary performance. Of course, such faithful reproduction has inherent risks, which he doesn’t entirely escape ... 'Saturated with unrelentingly grim headlines,' goes one typical sentence, 'the summer of 2014 was proving ‘an anxious and depressing muddle,’ as The New Yorker’s George Packer characterized it.' A reader can admire the realism here — this is, indeed, just the sort of shoddy scaffolding that too often fills out such books — without wanting much more of it. Luckily, Miles’s writing has many compensatory virtues. One of them is broad humor ... Another is compassion. Miles specializes in giving fully rounded humanity to characters who might elsewhere be treated as stock figures ... Perhaps Miles’s strengths as a writer, his comic vision and his largeheartedness, make him unable to resist engineering a happy ending for Cameron and a neatly satisfying one for the rest of us. That’s his right, and plenty of readers will appreciate the impulse, but this one was disappointed to see such a copiously talented writer pulling his punch.
Whether it’s a terrifying firefight in the snowy mountains of Afghanistan or the fervor that swirls around the Biloxi convenience store as it’s transformed, with the spreading news of Cameron’s 'miracle,' into a place that’s like 'someone opened a Cracker Barrel at Lourdes,' the novel is a vivid portrait of our need to believe and its unintended consequences ... For all he does to make the book appear as a work of journalism, Miles doesn’t sacrifice his characters’ inner lives to the demands of his well-orchestrated plot. Anatomy of a Miracle is a thoughtful modern morality play that’s as current as the latest internet meme and as timeless as the foundations of faith.