The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker is a novel that has the potential for greatness, but is one that didn’t particularly stick out for some reason. The premise is quite creative, and I enjoyed it, but….hmm.
“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.”
Julia’s journey through her preteen years, a complicated time for everyone, becomes entirely more complicated because the turn of the earth has slowed down and everyone is, first, afraid of dying and then second, trying to figure out how to adjust to days that, within months (a term that quickly loses meaning in the novel), grow to 72 hours long. It’s an interesting premise because we take the turn of our planet and the length of our days for granted, but Walker has thought out exactly how a slowing of the earth’s turning might affect both nature and civilization. None of it is very good, and Julia’s outlook is not very optimistic. One has to admire, however, her ability to not allow it to affect her. She is naturally a melancholy girl with few friends, and with the slowing, many people move away (though anyone with half a brain knows you can’t escape the slowing of the turning of the earth by going somewhere else, unless it’s not on earth), including her friends. As her relationships with friends and neighbors fall apart, she finds one friend–a boy–and becomes very close to him, perhaps knowing that putting things off for another day or being afraid to act on her feelings may mean dying before she has a chance to get what she wants. Her mother, however, is a wreck, and eventually falls ill. Poor Julia. It’s a lot to deal with at 11.
I was incredibly curious about what would happen to both Julia in her everyday life and the planet at large. It is surprisingly difficult to revisit those years of my life that I hated. But Julia was an extremely relatable character, and I liked her, despite her somewhat dismal view of life (can she really help it?). She is narrating the story of her adolescence from a point in the future, perhaps middle age, and tells the story as if she is foreshadowing. “Little did we know…,” “We would soon find out…,” and various things of that nature make many appearances in the book. For those who hate foreshadowing, I don’t recommend this book. It was a little irritating at times, but it also made the narrator seem more present as a character than just as a first person voice with no current feelings who is describing only events and emotions from the past. It was very different from most first person voices, and I thought it was rather creative.
For some reason, despite the fact that it’s extremely different and I really enjoyed the story, I feel like it’s one of those books I will forget I’ve read. The details are already starting to blur in my memory. It was good, but it didn’t have that wow factor, which disappointed me a little. Still, I recommend it to anyone who likes smart, thought-provoking novels. If you’re not a sci-fi fan, don’t let the premise spoil it for you. Despite its rather fantastic nature, the plot does not read like a science-fiction book, nor is it classified as one.