Reading Group Guide
This reading group guide for Miracles, 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?
- 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.