Top Shelf in January: The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker
Reviewed by: Marie, Master Bookseller and White Cat Wrangler
The end seems imminent, but nobody imagined it would be like this. The earth is slowing its rotation; the days are becoming longer; gravity is becoming greater; crops are withering; the first day of 6th grade will begin in a week. This is the story that unfurls in Karen Thompson Walker’s debut novel The Age of Miracles, a literary coming of age book that presents a completely new idea of what guise the apocalypse might assume, and how the world might try and cope with it.
The Slowing isn’t noticeable at first, and it is never explained. Like so many questions that go unanswered in life, the Slowing simply IS, and despite it, people persevere as best they can. The story is narrated in the retrospective voice of Julia, looking back on the time when The Slowing is first identified, as an 11 year old girl in the suburbs of Southern California. I remember middle school, being 12, knowing the true meaning of “growing pains”, and I cannot imagine trying to undertake the same ordeal with the bounty of unexpected problems and disasters that Walker envisions and describes for us so deftly in her first novel. Her well-crafted and accessible characters act out the languid extinction of life on a doomed planet, taking the reader through a frightening and convincingly possible series of symptoms of terrestrial mortality. And through it all, we have as our guide a quiet young girl observing the world falling to pieces faster and faster, even as the world is slowing down.
What she sees are some things that we have all seen: the best friend that drifts away; the cute boy at school who never talks to you; the overly-dramatic mother who suddenly has cause for drama; the somewhat distant father; the slightly eccentric older man with a bomb shelter. The same dramas that we play all our lives play out on a stage set with a backdrop of hopelessness, but these characters continue to act them out, regardless. Bullies are still bullies at school, relationships still fail, middle school children still suffer the indignities of growing up, and we feel sharply for this girl who must brave such an undertaking in the face of such uncertainty.
This book is not uplifting, but it is powerful and thought provoking. What would we do if faced with such an impossible future? What could that future possibly hold? We can be convinced that, whatever it is, most likely we will all continue to do the same essential things we do now. We will love, and we will hurt. People will die, and people will be born. We will strive for survival, and we will persevere until we simply are no longer able. The Age of Miracles paints for us a beautiful tapestry of one way that universal story is played out.
Copies of The Age of Miracles are now available on our shelves and via bookpeople.com. (Available in paperback 1/15/13.) Karen Thompson Walker reads from and signs The Age of Miracles here at BookPeople on Friday, January 25 at 7pm. We are currently taking orders for signed copies via our website. We ship internationally.