Friday, January 11, 2013

Book Review: The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker

 


 
 
 
 
Luminous, haunting, unforgettable, The Age of Miracles is a stunning fiction debut by a superb new writer, a story about coming of age during extraordinary times, about people going on with their lives in an era of profound uncertainty.

On a seemingly ordinary Saturday in a California suburb, 11-year-old Julia and her family awake to discover, along with the rest of the world, that the rotation of the earth has suddenly begun to slow. The days and nights grow longer and longer, gravity is affected, the environment is thrown into disarray.
 
Yet as she struggles to navigate an ever-shifting landscape, Julia is also coping with the normal disasters of everyday life--the fissures in her parents’ marriage, the loss of old friends, the hopeful anguish of first love, the bizarre behavior of her grandfather who, convinced of a government conspiracy, spends his days obsessively cataloging his possessions. As Julia adjusts to the new normal, the slowing inexorably continues.

With spare, graceful prose and the emotional wisdom of a born storyteller, Karen Thompson Walker has created a singular narrator in Julia, a resilient and insightful young girl, and a moving portrait of family life set against the backdrop of an utterly altered world.
 
 

 
 
“It still amazes me how little we really knew. . . . Maybe everything that happened to me and my family had nothing at all to do with the slowing. It’s possible, I guess. But I doubt it. I doubt it very much.”
 
~
 
“How much sweeter life would be if it all happened in reverse, if, after decades of disappointments, you finally arrived at an age when you had conceded nothing, when everything was possible.”
 
~
 
“Later, I would come to think of those first days as the time when we learned as a species that we had worried over the wrong things: the hole in the ozone layer, the melting of the ice caps, West Nile and swine flu and killer bees. But I guess it never is what you worry over that comes to pass in the end. The real catastrophes are always different—unimagined, unprepared for, unknown.”
 

 
The Age of Miracles is such a lovely, delicate novel, particularly for a post-(during)-apocaplyptic book. The YA universe is populated with many novels describling the end of the world, but none as simply striking and touching as this one.
 
YA might not even be the correct designation for The Age of Miracles. Although the protagonist, Julia, is a teenager, the novel is told from the perspective of her older self with the adult filter that such a reminiscience would obviously bring. Instead of trying to sound like a teen or portray the slowing of time as a teen would feel it, Walker brings a sense of gravitas and wise perspective to the tale with this decision.
 
The Age of Miracles is really more of a coming-of-age tale with an apocalyptic setting than the other way round and really could have been set at any time or place that would be stressful and isolating to Julia and her family. Humans are nothing if not adaptable and the efforts of Julia, her family, her community and the country to normalize a previously abnormal situation are just as much a part to the story as Julia's journey itself.
 
Bottom line: the real story here is not that the Earth slowed it's rotation and days began to stretch on without end, it is the reactions of the family and townspeople surrounding Julia and her struggle to grow up despite the lunacy surrounding her. Walker has created a beautiful coming-of-age-tale that will stick with you long after you have turned the last page.
 

 
 
 

 
 

1 comment:

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