The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker
Random House, 288 Pages
US Release Date: June 26, 2012
Source: Publisher, via TLC Book Tours (thank you Random House and TLC!)
“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.”
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.
There was no footage to show on television, no burning buildings or broken bridges, no twisted metal or scorched earth, no houses sliding off slabs. No one was wounded. No one was dead. It was, at the beginning, a quite invisible catastrophe.
One of the reasons I wanted to read this novel is because I saw Curtis Sittenfeld had blurbed it – and though I don’t mention her often on this blog, Curtis Sittenfeld is an insta-read author for me. There’s something so engaging and powerful about her novels, and I read them as fast as they release. (Which, can we please have a new one soon? Pretty please?)
I feel like The Age of Miracles is very reminiscent of a Curtis Sittenfeld novel, in the best way possible. There’s something similar in their writing, in that quiet, understated detail that individually seems to be simple, but together makes the most powerful picture. This isn’t the most action packed novel, not by a longshot – but there’s never a second I feel like it’s boring. There’s always something there right behind the words, always something happening just past the words we’re reading.
When I chose the book to review, I was a little confused as to if it was a YA novel, or adult fiction – and then I found out the narrator is a 12-year-old girl and was even more confused. Truthfully, I never really found out (I think it is classified as fiction), but that’s part of its structure: it appeases so many qualifications of each genre. It’s a bit Dystopian and Sci-Fi, with this not quite futuristic novel but still a different world than our own; it’s a bit contemporary, with the relationships and learning what love means; it’s a bit coming-of-age.
I’m going to say something, and it might lead you astray but let me explain: this book terrified me. It’s not a scary, thriller novel; but the imagination and detail to the world made it feel so real. And the scariest part is that I really feel like this could happen. Who can say that the world isn’t already slowing? How many times do we glance up at a clock and swear that the day lasts a bit longer? Just the other day I was astonished that it was already 8:30pm and still a bit light out. Karen Thompson Walker has built the brilliant situation that seems just out of reach, not quite inevitable but definitely possible. And that scares me shitless.
I was so impressed with how thoughtful the novel was, too. Every scenario was taken into consideration, and I felt that I was really following the fate of this planet as I read. And though I’m definitely not a scientist, the physics and scientific explanations that happen throughout seem absolutely real. I know a bit about earth’s rotation and how these seasons affect everything on a grander scale, and The Age of Miracles really felt like it was non-fiction in it’s reasonings.
Even though I feel like this novel is mostly a plot- and world-driven novel, that doesn’t mean the characters were any less than fantastic. Juliet, the main character, is an 11-year-old girl having to go through the stress of middle school in this entirely unprecedented and changing world. If we thought we had it bad wondering about training bras and how that boy suddenly smells good, imagine if you had to figure that while the world also seems to be ending! Juliet is quiet and worrisome, and she stole my heart with her sympathy, seriousness and innocence. Each secondary character was also done quite well, with features about them that I equally loved and hated. It was a really great balance of personalities with everyone; just one more way I feel like this entire story was a reality.
The Age of Miracles is both unlike anything I’ve ever read before and entirely like the best parts of my favourite authors’ writing. The story is unique and original in the best way possible, creating a world that feels familiar but is so unlike our own. There’s a soft wisdom in all of Karen Walker’s words, making a beautiful, compelling story. I highly recommend this book.
4.5 Stars / 5
And thanks to Random House, you can win a copy, too!
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Karen Thompson Walker is a graduate of UCLA and the Columbia MFA program and is the recipient of the 2011 Sirenland Fellowship as well as a Bomb magazine fiction prize. A former editor at Simon & Schuster, she wrote The Age of Miracles in the mornings before work. Born and raised in San Diego, she now lives in Brooklyn with her husband. The Age of Miracles is her first book.
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(bio taken from the ARC author bio page)