Vernon L. Oliver, still a young man, lives in a six-by-ten cell in a Florida prison. He has chosen the needle over the chair, has no desire to smell burned flesh on the day the state snuffs out his life. When his attorney suggests he write an autobiography to generate funds to cover legal fees incurred during the appeals process, Vernon sits down to pencil and paper and begins his narrative.
Miracles, Inc., Forrester's debut novel, tells the story of a charismatic slacker in love with Harley Davidson motorcycles and Rickie Terrell, a beautiful woman who quotes poetry and will not discuss her past. They live in an RV, smoke weed and drink beer, play Scrabble late into the night. His boss, a brilliant businesswoman with a far-reaching vision, offers him the chance to make more money than he ever thought was possible. He buys into the faith-healing scheme without reservation, and so begins the journey that leads to the stunning event that changes his life forever.
This reading group guide forMiracles, Inc.includes an introduction, discussion questions, and ideas for enhancing your book club. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.
Vernon Oliver, a charismatic slacker and product of a troubled family, is suffering from the trauma of his sister’s death. He falls in love with Rickie Terrell, a beautiful young woman who works in a traveling carnival, quotes poetry, and will not discuss her past. Vernon soon finds himself recruited by Rickie’s mother, Miriam, to work a faith-healing scam. He buys into her scheme without reservation, and so begins the journey that leads to the stunning event that will land him on Death Row. It is in his prison cell where Vernon is able to reflect on his past and ultimately find salvation.
TOPICS AND QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION
In most relationships, love evolves or devolves over time. Describe the love Vernon and Rickie have for each other. Is it healthy? Equal? Does Vernon meet Rickie's demand for loyalty?
In the opening pages of Miracles, Inc., we learn that Vernon Oliver is soon to be executed for a crime he committed. With the outcome apparently settled, how is the author able to create suspense?
How do you feel about Vernon as a character? Do you admire him, pity him, or hate him? Why?
Vernon's unconditional love for Rickie leads to a huge sacrifice. Does this elevate him in your eyes? Do you see any parallels between this story and the biblical story of Christ on the cross?
The chapters switch between Vernon’s past and his present day prison life. What do you think the author hoped to accomplish by alternating between time? Does he succeed?
On page 59, readers learn about the death of Vernon’s sister and Vernon’s attempted suicide. How does this revelation affect our understanding of Vernon’s world? Would it surprise you to learn that the author lost two siblings to a genetic terminal illness?
Who are the important women in Vernon’s life? How do they influence his life for better or for worse?
Much of this novel is set in the world of fake Pentecostal faith-healing. Compared to real world events, how realistic is this portrayal?
Rickie never forgives her mother for the abandonment. Is this fair? Understandable?
Vernon Oliver’s life is a bit bleak—troubled family life, drug use, criminal fraud, attempted suicide, and a lengthy imprisonment. How does the author manage to balance this dark subject matter? Did you find any of the events or characters inspiring?
Near the end of his story, Vernon writes: “Truth may start out timid, but it finishes bold.” Much of Vernon’s life has been built on lies. What is the truth that he finds? What truth in his life “finishes bold”?
In a stroke of irony, Vernon Oliver is put on Death Row for a crime he did not commit, but never charged with the massive fraud he did commit. What is the role of dark humor in Miracles, Inc.?
In this novel, religion is divided into gullible, needy people on the one side and clever parasites on the other side. Why do you think the story lacks any characters that are able to believe from a position of wisdom and strength? How did this portrayal of organized religion challenge your own perspective?
Based on his debut novel, what do you think of T.J. Forrester as a writer? Where do you think his imagination will take him in the future? Why did you decide to choose this book for your book club?
ENHANCE YOUR BOOK CLUB
Elmer Gantry by Sinclair Lewis was a novel which explored the world of fake miracles and religious fraud. A 1960 film version of this novel starred Burt Lancaster. Watch this movie with you book group and compare it to Miracles, Inc.
Much of Miracles, Inc. takes place in a Death Row facility in Florida. Consider reading Helen Prejean’s Dead Man Walking or Killing Time: An 18-year Odyssey from Death Row to Freedom by John Hollway and Ronald M. Gauthier. Compare the prison life described by Vernon in Miracles, Inc. to real world examples.
T.J. Forrester is the author of the novel Miracles, Inc., and his work has appeared in numerous literary journals. An avid long distance hiker, he has thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail, the Pacific Crest Trail, and the Continental Divide Trail in consecutive years. To learn more, visit TJForrester.com.
“Miracles, Inc. by T.J. Forrester is a kind of miracle itself. Pleasure and humor and suspense are guaranteed, double-d. Forrester is that good—like Elmore Leonard writing Elmer Gantry. Hot dog!” —Clyde Edgerton, author of The Bible Salesman
“T.J. Forrester has achieved with his debut novel a rare blend of suspense, satire, and flawed but sympathetic characters. More than just a literary page-turner, MIRACLES, INC. asks important questions about religion, belief, and the exploitation of our nation’s faithful that I’m sure to be thinking about for a long time to come.” —Amy Greene, bestselling author of Bloodroot
"A vibrant first novel . . . Showing the push-the-envelope spirit of a Terry Southern, Forrester has the makings of a formidable talent." —Kirkus (starred review)
"There are terrible deeds throughout the novel, but they are accompanied by comedy and moments of tenderness. Forrest never explicitly makes this declaration, but the story speaks clearly enough: bad things can befall those who exploit the faith and prayers of others." --Booklist