Getting to Know Novelist Jonathan Miles

A novelist finds refuge in a riverfront shed. (Yes, he has a house, too.)

Jonathan Miles wrote his latest novel, "Anatomy of a Miracle," in the solitude of the primitive shed he built from old shipping pallets on his property in the Delaware River town of Milford.
Jonathan Miles wrote his latest novel, "Anatomy of a Miracle," in the solitude of the primitive shed he built from old shipping pallets on his property in the Delaware River town of Milford.
Photo by Frank Veronsky

Novelist Jonathan Miles is so deft a thinker, he has no problem drawing parallels between New Jersey and his onetime home state of Mississippi.

“I know this will sort of raise some eyebrows,” says Miles, who writes in an 8-by-8 shack he built out of shipping pallets on his property in Milford, along the Delaware. “But New Jersey is like Mississippi in the sense that it’s a victim of stereotype. To crib from one of our greatest New Jersey poets”—namely, Walt Whitman—“it contains multitudes.” 

Miles, 47, discovered those multitudes in 2011, when he started hanging out three miles up the road in Frenchtown with fellow novelist Elizabeth Gilbert. 

“Liz is an old friend,” he says. “She actually recruited me to live here.”

Mostly, Gilbert turned on Miles to Hunterdon County’s solitude. His 1734 farmhouse—shared with his wife, Catherine, a wine importer, and their three kids, a 13-year-old daughter and two sons, 15 and 11—sits on the edge of a 300-acre nature conservancy. Miles’s third novel, Anatomy of a Miracle (Hogarth, 2018), about a paraplegic Army veteran who miraculously starts walking again, was written entirely in the shack. It’s newly available in paperback. 

“I live on top of a hill, and I try not to leave the hill,” says Miles. “I love it here. I’m pretty close to a hermit.”  

Photo by Frank Veronsky

Though influenced by Southern authors like the late Larry Brown, whom he met several years after running away at age 17 to Oxford, Mississippi, from his hometown of Cleveland, Miles has been in the Northeast for more than a decade. With Catherine and the kids, he  lived in Rockland County, New York, in the years before his 2008 debut novel, Dear American Airlines, landed him on the literary map. They made the jump to Milford by the time his second novel, Want Not, arrived in 2013. The move to Milford feels permanent. Still, not everyone is convinced that what goes on in his “tight but cozy” space is real work.

“My kids laugh at me,” he says. “They say I go into a shed in our yard and talk to myself with my imaginary friends.”

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