The Age of Miracles: A Novel by Karen Thompson Walker (New York: Random House, 2012. 269 pp)

Karen Thompson Walker is a graduate of UCLA and has received the 2011 Sirenland Fellowship as well as a Bomb Magazine fiction prize. She is a former editor for Simon & Schuster. The Age of Miracles is her first novel.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Random House Publishing. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising”

The End is Nigh!

The year is 2012, and, as many have heard, the world is going to end, or so the Mayans predicted. Nostradamus also proclaimed something similar, didn’t he? When you think about it, some Bible-thumping nut far too “knowledgeable” in the ways of eschatology is predicting the end of the world seemingly every five minutes. Even crazy zealots once predicted that the end was nigh when the the Hale-Bopp comet graced the night skies. But, we will never really know when the end of the world is going to occur—a thought perhaps more frightening for some than the end itself. Karen Thompson Walker, in her first novel The Age of Miracles documents the tale of a young eleven-year old girl and what happens as the world begins to end.

On a seemingly ordinary sunny day in a small Californian suburb, eleven-year old Julia is encountering the pains of growing up. Coping with the everyday disasters and transformation of the teenage years, she struggles with her parents’ marriage, her emergence into adulthood, and her own first love. But, her life isn’t the only thing transforming, so is the world around her.

“We didn’t notice right away. We couldn’t feel it. We did not sense at first the extra time, bulging from the smooth edge of each day like a tumor blooming beneath skin” (3).

A Slow Change

Photo by NASA

The rotation of the earth has begun to slow. The days become longer and longer, and if that shift wasn’t disturbing enough, the social and ecological ramifications are many. What piqued my interest in the novel is that the author chose to focus deeply on how the world would change socially if the earth slowly stopped rotating. She describes the change in such harrowing, sorrowful detail in a way that makes the story feel strikingly real.

“In the hours that followed, we would worry and wait. We would guess and wonder and speculate. We would learn new words and new ways from the scientists and officials who paraded in and out of our living room through the television screen and the Internet. We would stalk the sun across our sky as we never had before. My mother drank Scotch over ice in a glass. My father paced in the living room” (17-18).

Unnoticed Changes

Photo by Justin Berger

As the hours slowly and painstakingly add themselves onto the earth’s day, the effects of the slowing are many. Some however, are unnoticed. Some around her, including her own mother, begin to suffer from an unnamed illness called the syndrome, a byproduct of a change in gravity. As the world constantly changes, the old earth seems like a thing of fantasy to the eleven year old girl, something that could never exist outside of a dream.

“Some say that the slowing affected us in a thousand other unacknowledged ways, from the life expectancy of lightbulbs to the rate at which ice melted and water boiled and human cells multiplied and human cells died. Some say that our bodies aged less rapidly in the days immediately following the start of the slowing, that the dying died slower deaths, that babies took longer to be born…All the while, the clocks continued to tick. Wristwatches went right on beating faint beats. My grandfather’s antique clocks chimed their ancient chimes…How quaint the old twenty-four-hour clock began to look to our eyes, how impossibly clean-cut, with its two twin sets of twelve, as neat as walnut shells. How had we believed, we wondered, in such simplistic things” (69-70).

Unnerving Prose

As little Julia grows up through the novel, the reader experiences her world; she goes to soccer practice, meets boys, and goes through moonlit strolls at the “noon” hour. Though The Age of Miracles is a coming-of-age story, it’s only so in the simplest sense. More than a girl growing up, the novel acts as a requiem for a lost world, a thing of memory. The author juxtaposes the pains of growing up with the pains of a dying world, and the unknown in both circumstances.  

Karen Thompson Walker truly takes the reader on a fantastical journey, so fantastic that the reader is unnerved at every turn. The prose is so poetic and poignant that you are forced to lament with Julia as the requiem unfurls throughout the book, pointing the reader to a future that is frighteningly realistic. The Age of Miracles hits shelves today, and you should get a copy very soon.

Verdict: 4.5 out of 5

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