Growing Up at the End of the World: Karen Thompson Walker’s “The Age of Miracles”

Note: This post is a review of Karen Thompson Walker’s The Age of Miracles and contains plot spoilers.

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Life is hard, there’s no doubt about it. But, most of us are able, at least to some extent, put life’s difficulties behind us and move on. We keep going, because the world stops for no one. We don’t ignore those difficulties, but instead compartmentalize them and leave them behind in a different time. We gain perspective. In retrospect, things don’t seem so bad. They were learning experiences, something everyone goes through — something to accept, not to dwell on and be ashamed of.

Every age has its challenges. As babies, we learn to walk and talk. We fall down, we speak gibberish. As children, we learn to read, go to school, make our first friends. We stumble over words, we get the answer wrong, we don’t quite fit in. As adolescents, we are more aware of the world around us and how it works, we develop real relationships with others, we have a crush, an inseparable best friend. Reality can be serious and not always happy, those relationships are tested, feelings are rejected, we’re not always the most popular person.

The list goes on and on. And life doesn’t stop while the list continues.

Even if the world does stop turning.

Source/Disclaimer: theageofmiraclesbook.com. Image is strictly property of Karen Thompson Walker and Random House.

What would happen to an ordinary 11-year old girl if the world did indeed stop turning? This is the story that Karen Thompson Walker presents in her debut novel, The Age of Miracles.

Julia is like any other 11 year old California girl when her life, and the lives of every other person on Earth, changes forever. She has a seemingly normal home life as the only child of a former actress and a physician. Life is predictable, her best friend Hanna spends the night, a new school year has begun, her parents sit at the kitchen table reading the newspaper.

It’s a Saturday morning in October. That newspaper is full of the stories of the day, all the things we’re afraid of. War, disease, terrorism, extreme weather, disaster. Those things we can name, things that have faces, causes, effects. Things that bring fear.

But, as Julia so appropriately observes, “it never is what you worry over that comes to pass in the end. The real catastrophes are always different — unimagined, unprepared for, unknown” (Thompson Walker, 27).

Out of nowhere, the news breaks that the rotation of the Earth has slowed. 56 minutes have been added to the length of one Earth day overnight. There is no explanation. Called “The Slowing,” this phenomenon continues. One day goes from 24 hours to 32, then to 40, 48, 54, 60….

In the first days, life seems to literally stop and then stretch as people try to find things to fill the extra hours of light and darkness in their day. But soon, normal life intrudes. The governments of the world insist on sticking to the 24 hour clock, even if the hours between one sunrise and the next continues to grow. There is hope that answers can be found, that a solution can be reached.

In the meantime, life goes on. The Slowing consumes everyone, but a new normal is reached. Even as day and night become detached from sunshine and darkness, Julia goes to school, attends piano lessons, and plays soccer. Her parents go to work, the babies her father delivers continue to be born. She worries about her lack of a training bra, crushes on neighborhood boy Seth Moreno, is saddened by her best friend Hanna’s abandonment, anticipates seeing Seth at piano lessons, struggles with unpopularity in school, and worries over the increasing cracks in her parents’ marriage.

Like the difficulties of our own childhoods and adolescences, Julia’s are no less important to her than ours were to us. The end of the world does not magically end the growing up process. Life is not stopped cold.

Everyday life endures as the days continue to grow, as new problems arise, as the Earth ceases to turn.

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At first glance, this is not a book I would normally read. While I am a guilty-pleasure fan of some disaster movies like Twister, Day After Tomorrow, and 2012, I don’t really like “sad” stories. Especially those which are character driven. But, something about The Age of Miracles sucked me in, and I’m so glad I read it.

Source/Disclaimer: theageofmiraclesbook.com. Image is strictly property of Karen Thompson Walker and Random House.

Karen Thompson Walker is an excellent writer and her prose is both beautiful and engaging. Overall, I really enjoyed reading The Age of Miracles, even though the book’s plot device (the end of the world) can be unsettling.

Julia’s narration made me reflect on my own childhood/adolescence and on the things that seemingly made it “tough” — things that don’t seem so bad now. It was a nice chance to reminisce.

The book is excellently formulated and Walker does a great job of describing the effects that The Slowing has on the Earth and its occupants. While some of her descriptions aren’t completely original — mainly due to the amount of “end of the world scenarios” various forms of media has presented over the years — none of it seems trite or lame.

I only had one real issue with the book while I was reading, and that was trying to wrap my head around what was actually happening to the Earth. I had to figure that out and make myself at peace with the logic of it before I could move on and read the book.

Let me explain: I had to establish in my head that the spinning of the Earth on its axis had slowed, thereby making the amount of time from one sunrise to the next stretch. This, however, did not effect the time it took the Earth to orbit around the sun. So, really, as the length of one “day” lengthened, the number of “days” it takes the Earth to travel completely around the Sun decreased.

The Age of Miracles is a quick read, coming in at 225 pages. It is fast moving and well-paced and is not meant to be a story of how the world ends. Instead, it is a snapshot of events and emotions during that time.

The Age of Miracles is truly a wonderful, thoughtful, and thought-provoking read. It is not a book about a disaster. It is a story of what happens to our lives and relationships in the midst of the most Earth-shattering disaster. It is a testament that even as life ends, it continues to go on.

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