Review: The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker

Saturday, June 2, 2012
Genre: general fiction, science fiction, post-apocalyptic
Series: N/A
Pages: 212 (Nook ARC edition)
Published: expected June 26 2012
Source: publishers via edelweiss
Rating: 4/5

'It is never what you worry over that comes to pass in the end. The real catastrophies are always different - unimagined, unprepared for, unknown...' 

What if our 24-hour day grew longer, first in minutes, then in hours, until day becomes night and night becomes day? What effect would this slowing have on the world? On the birds in the sky, the whales in the sea, the astronauts in space, and on an eleven-year-old girl, grappling with emotional changes in her own life..? One morning, Julia and her parents wake up in their suburban home in California to discover, along with the rest of the world, that the rotation of the earth is noticeably slowing. The enormity of this is almost beyond comprehension. And yet, even if the world is, in fact, coming to an end, as some assert, day-to-day life must go on. Julia, facing the loneliness and despair of an awkward adolescence, witnesses the impact of this phenomenon on the world, on the community, on her family and on herself.

I love when books can surprise you. I had a general idea of what to expect with Karen Thompson Walker's meandering, character and thought-driven novel about the end of the world, but I had no idea how bittersweetly she could spin this science fiction-adjacent tale of change, hope, young love, and death. I somehow assumed that this thoughtful exploration of the Earth's "slowing" would be a young-adult effort, but though protagonist and narrator Julia is a preteen, The Age of Miracles should not be confused for a simple young-adult story; don't be deceived as I was. Karen Thompson Walker proves herself more than adept at crafting a unique, easily-envisaged scenario in which for her characters to live or die here, and it is contemplatively engaging from the get-go. Though this is a debut author, there is clearly a lot of talent at play within this new author's fertile and expansive imagination this is one novelist whom I will be sure to watch in the future.

I was struck by the author's writing within pages. Simple and spare, Walker and Julia are gifted with an easy but strong voice, alive with imagery. Walker has a gift for striking descriptions and a unique way with words, one easily lent to creating atmosphere and tension within the novel (from the ARC, page 8: "We did not sense at first the extra time, bulging from the smooth edge of each day like a tumor blooming beneath skin.") Her style fits this loosely apocalyptic story; the focus is not on the extreme events that happen as a result of the slowing (like "solar superstorms" or "gravity sickness"), nor in finding/explaining the cause for the change, but rather on the effects of the aforementioned on Julia and her family. As the world and the things taken for granted fluctuate and stretch, so too do the inner lives and previously unassailable facts of life for Julia, her father and mother. 

Julia grows up, and into her role as narrator, quite fast in a world where "dark days" and "white nights" are the norm, and her character is neither stunted nor fully-dimensional. Hampered, perhaps, by the very short length of this novel (only 212 pages in ARC form), I never quite connected to Julia. I was curious about whether the cards would fall as I predicted, but I never fully invested in her as character. Like the particularly apt reference to the Gary Paulsen novel Hatchet and akin to its protagonist Brian, young Julia finds her way alone in an unfamiliar, and hostile world. I rooted for her in her suburban catastrophes; I just didn't love her. All the characters, from dad Joel to hippie Sylvia, feel sketched-out, rather than fully drawn. Despite this, I was fully involved in the story unfolding throughout The Age of Miracles - the steady stream of new revelations, the twists and turns of the more mundane plotlines and above all, Thompson Walker's inimitable prose, kept my attention firmly affixed to the page.

Though quite short and not completely perfect, The Age of Miracles is a bittersweet and worthy addition to the science fiction/apocalyptic genre. Karen Thompson Walker's foray into writing is largely a success on many counts - it is original and compelling and distinctly written. It is, I hope, a pleasant harbinger of more to come from the debut novelist. I will definitely be tuning in as well as going forth and recommending this book for those seeking a slower-paced, more introspective take on the end of the world.

Also, superficially, the Spanish edition cover is beautiful:

1 comment:

  1. OK, you have me totally interested and I kind of ignored this one based on the cover..i didn't even realize it was apocalyptic.

    Irene Jennings of Anchorage Personal Injury Attorney


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