Published on August 16th, 2012 | by Elizabeth Coleman0
Review of The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker
The Age of Miracles is Karen Thompson Walker’s debut novel, a young adult novel decidedly dressed up and marketed for adults. The premise of the book has potential: the Earth’s rotation mysteriously starts slowing, spelling disastrous consequences for humanity. With “the slowing,” as the characters call it, the days and nights grow longer and longer. By the end of the book, there are six-week periods of daylight and then darkness. The much-awaited novel sparked a bidding war among U.S. publishers, as it seems especially topical in light of natural disasters and the impending 2012 phenomenon soon upon us.
It is clear that Walker has creatively thought about the potential implications of the slowing, thought she doesn’t give any scientific explanation to why it occurred, and inconsistencies emerge (no wheat, but an extensive supply of frozen pizza?) We see Earth’s gravitational pull strengthen, leading people to experience “gravity sickness,” and tears in the magnetic field leading to increases in radiation. Crops fail, temperatures rise and then plummet with the increased length of days and certain species of animals begin to die en masse. Birds fall out of the sky and whales wash up on the beach. Planes are grounded indefinitely as physicists struggle to determine a solution and how to calculate the effects of the changes. Governments decide to stick to the 24-hour clock, creating rifts between those who stick to the
clock and “real timers,” those neo-hippies who abide by the Earth’s movements, creating cult-like communes to escape the discrimination they face. Natural resources and energy are rationed and people start stockpiling food and supplies for the inevitable time when they will run out.
All these disastrous changes in the world are seen through the lens of 20-something year old Julia, reminiscing on her life as an 11-year old during the year when the slowing started. And this is where I found fault in the novel.
The descriptions of the changes Julia sees come across flat and heavy-handed, ominously foreshadowing future consequences. (“It was the last time I ever tasted a grape.”) It is entirely devoid of the emotional response one would imagine from something as monumental as the
apocalyptic end of the world. But as Julia mentions, “We kids were not as afraid as we should have been. We were too young to be scared, too immersed in our own small worlds, too convinced of our own permanence.” Julia’s own small world, the relationships she held and the
struggles she faced in the awkward pre-teen years of middle school are truly the focus of the story. But then where are Julia’s emotional responses to these typical pre-teen tropes? With abandonment from a best friend, snubbing from a blossoming crush, school bullying, and suspicions of Dad having an affair, one would think that at some point we would get an emotional outburst or two. Instead, Julia seems to float through these events as an outsider, never fully engaging in them with any sort of emotional reaction. She merely describes them in the same flat manner as she describes the changes in the world. (“Meanwhile, the oceans were shifting, the Gulf Stream was slowing and Gabby shaved her head.”)
Perhaps by offsetting ordinary, fragmented moments of everyday life against something as monumental as the apocalypse, Walker is trying to show us that we derive meaning in our lives in different ways. It is the first kisses, the relationships we build and the seemingly innocuous daily activities that color our lives in more important ways than global catastrophes lurking in the background. Unfortunately, because of its lack of emotional resonance with the characters, The Age of Miracles fell short in showing this meaning.