Throughout Miracles, Inc., T. J. Forrester adroitly juggles our estimation of his death row protagonist/narrator. Is Vernon L. Oliver really a murderer? Or is he an innocent man who has been framed? Can we trust his telling of the story? Or is he a prevaricator, fabricating a fantasy in order to gain our sympathy? Does he have any redeeming qualities? Or is he simply a garden-variety sociopath? This combination of uncertainty and possibility is what keeps us turning the pages. Because, darn it anyway, despite everything, we kind of like Vernon L Oliver.
Sure, he is a swindler. We know that from the get-go. He freely admits to feeling no remorse over posing as a faith healer in order to con cash out of people desperate for a miracle. "Hope," he notes as he passes the collection plate during a Tabernacle Carnival's healing service, "That's what we sold twice a day, and this congregation was about to get a major dose." But that is just the beginning, small time stuff compared to the millions he will eventually rake in via his Miracles, Inc. televangelist network.
It probably goes without saying that Oliver is a phony. He doesn't buy what he's selling for one minute, even when he's about to step onstage before a crowd of thousands at a revival in Guatemala City: "God, the Holy Spirit and Pastor Vernon Oliver had come to visit. An unholy trinity wrapped up inside one big lie." And before services he snorts lines of coke to help amplify his own, already impressive, image before the crowds.
On the other hand, Oliver does possess a few redeeming qualities. A man who can command the adoration, to say nothing of the pocketbooks, of millions is nothing if not charming. But, beyond this easy charisma, there is also his unswerving loyalty to and love for beautiful but complicated Rickie Terrell as well as his fond memories of his deceased sister. He's a generous philanthropist, and he's smart, with what they used to call a photographic memory. We like smart people. But can we trust them? Especially those on death row?
Finally we have to ask whether Oliver might be just plain crazy, driven there by years of isolation inside a six-by-ten cell. It certainly wouldn't be the first time a person became psychotic while awaiting his/her own certain death. No spoilers here, though. Read it. Decide for yourself. Forrester's wizardry at creating a truly complex character makes reading this book a thoroughly amusing mental exercise.
About the Author
T. J. Forrester has been a fisherman, a subsistence farmer, a bouncer, a window washer, and a miner. He is one of the few hikers in the world to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail, the Pacific Crest Trail, and the Continental Divide Trail. He has written fiction since 2001, and his stories have appeared in numerous literary journals. Forrester also edits Five Star Literary Stories, an online site that brings the best fiction published on the web to a new audience for both reading and review.
This review is from the February 3, 2011 issue of BookBrowse Recommends. Click here to go to this issue.
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