The Age of Miracles: A Novel by Karen Thompson Walker (New York: Random House, 2012. 278 pp)
Karen Thompson Walker was born in San Diego, California. She studied English and creative writing at UCLA and earned her MFA from Columbia University. While writing The Age of Miracles, Walker worked as a book editor for Simon & Schuster. Walker earned the 2011 Sirenland Fellowship and the Bomb Magazine fiction prize. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband.
The Age of Youth
Those early teens years are a trying time. Your leash extends and your parents no longer peer over your shoulder. Physiological and sociological changes force confrontation of new circumstances daily. It’s a time of identity.
Friends come and go and the schism of relationships feels more acute, as if life will never be the same (it doesn’t matter as much as we thought it would).
These issues happen to every kid, and it’s difficult even when the world around you seems consistent.
Imagine, then, if the world was ending. How would those seminal years unfold when life takes on new significance.
In The Age of Miracles, Karen Thompson Walker leverages a fantastical scenario to bring focus to the standard coming-of-age story.
The Age of Miracles
The novel follows of the life of Julia, an 11-year-old from California. Julia represents the typical pre-teen childhood, unsure of living in her own skin, gaining and losing friends and lacking the courage to talk to her crush, Seth the skateboarder, each day as they wait for the school bus.
“This was middle school, the age of miracles, the time when kids shot up three inches over the summer, when breasts bloomed from nothing, when voices dipped and dove. Our first flaws were emerging, but they were being corrected. Blurry vision could be fixed invisibly with the magic of the contact lens. Crooked teeth were pulled straight with braces. Spotty skin could be chemically cleared. Some girls were turning beautiful. A few boys were growing tall. I knew I still looked like a child” (43).
Thompson’s twist to the coming-of-age story emerges in the environment. From the early pages, the reader receives warning about “The Slowing,” a miraculous phenomenon in which the earth’s rotation diminishes its speed, causing days to become longer and longer.
“The slowing, we soon came to understand, had altered gravity. Afterward, the earth held a little more sway. Bodies in motion were slightly less likely to remain in motion. We were all of us and everything a little more susceptible to the pull of the ground, and maybe it was this shift in physics that had sent that bird straight into the flat glass of our windowpane” (26).
The Age of Details
Much of the intrigue around The Age of Miracles comes from the details of Julia and her family specifically, and the world around them dealing with this new normal.
“After the slowing, every action required a little more force than it used to. The physics had changed. Take, for example, the slightly increased drag of a hand on a knife or a finger on a trigger. From then on, we all had a little more time to decide what not to do. And who knows how fast a second-guess can travel? Who has ever measured the exact speed of regret? But the new gravity was not enough to overcome the pull of certain other forces, more powerful, less known—no law of physics can account for desire” (41).
Quickly, ways of life required addressing. As days moved into 30, 40, and then 50 hours long, society could no longer count on the sun as its barometer of time. Either, consistency goes out the window and jobs, school, and other regimented tasks renew each day whenever the sun rises, or the 24-hour day remains, daylight be damned.
With governments seeking order, many stick to the 24-hour time periods, but not everyone follows suit.
As you would imagine, the divorce of the day from the sun wreaks havoc on society:
“In the great reshuffling of fortunes and fates that followed the start of the slowing, most of us had lost. We were worse off, most of us, than we had been before. Some grew sick, some depressed. A great many marriages dissolved under the stress. Billions of dollars had drained from the markets. And we were missing certain other valuables, too: our way of life, our peace of mind, our faith” (175).
The further the phenomenon pushes everyone, the more cracks Julia sees within her own family and her surrounding community.
All of these items emerge while Julia continues to attend school and navigates the difficult period of life where she becomes her own person, untethered from parental control.
The Age of Miracles is a quick and engaging read, but outside of its fantastical premise, the core building blocks of the story are well-tread. While the details of the slowing keep the reader engaged, the characters and overall narrative lacks the depth required for making this book a masterpiece. I decided to read this book while traveling because I knew it would be a page-turner. As such, I would recommend this book for travel as it’s the kind of novel you can breeze through.
Verdict: 3 out of 5