Review: The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker

Published by Random House
Released June 26, 2012
288 pages
Where I got it: E-galley received from publisher via NetGalley
Rating: ★★★☆☆

Description (from Random House):

On a seemingly ordinary Saturday in a California suburb, 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.

Walker’s debut book, The Age of Miracles, is a quiet, lovely meditation on the inevitability of loss and the ever-present shadow of mortality that hovers over our lives, no matter how young. This book is told by a woman recalling the period of her youth when she was transitioning from a girl to a young woman, and the world decided to literally wind down. The rotation of the Earth slows, gradually at first, then very noticeably, and despite people’s decision to be willingly blind to their sad future, the planet changes life irrevocably. And although this is clearly an end-time scenario, the reaction of mankind is dull and full of denial, rather than panic and outrage. The result is a dreamy recollection, shrouded in the haze of memory.

Much of The Age of Miracles reminded me both of the film Melancholia and Jeffrey Eugenides’ The Virgin Suicides. There is a tone of letting the sadness wash over you as you go through the motions of everyday life. Still, the main character Julia is able to fall in love despite the death that surrounds everything. The small pieces of her world are still in play: being ditched by her best friend, struggling to fit in at school, the breakdown of her parents’ marriage. It’s just that in the big picture this stuff doesn’t actually matter, not when the the Earth’s magnetic field is gone and birds are dropping dead all around you.

While it is subtly beautiful, The Age of Miracles didn’t blow my mind. Reading it felt like diving into a past state of depression, but with a touch of fondness for the familiar melancholy feeling. There’s almost no science to explain the phenomena, and it’s probably better that way. This isn’t a book about thinking, it’s a book about feeling.

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