Wildfires out West and floods in Florida. Just more weird weather, or — dum, dum, dum — the end of the world as we know it? In this summer’s most buzzed-about book, The Age of Miracles, first-time novelist Karen Thompson Walker posits an end-days scenario triggered by the slowing of the Earth’s rotation.
“We didn’t notice right away. We couldn’t feel it,” begins narrator Julia, a Southern California sixth-grader. She recalls that they were distracted by weather and war, worrying about the wrong things: “the hole in the ozone layer, the melting of the ice caps, West Nile and swine flu and killer bees. But I guess it never is what you worry over that comes to pass in the end. The real catastrophes are always different — unimagined, unprepared for, unknown.”
As far as global castastrophes goes, “the slowing” is a pretty good one. Birds plummet from the sky as gravity shifts. Whales beach themselves. Long days stretch into white nights. Some plants begin to die, some people sicken, including Julia’s mother, who like many others, begins hoarding canned goods and candles. A period of panic sets in before the government decides society should continue 24/7, even if it means school begins in the middle of the night. The “real-timers” rebel, preferring to stick to circadian rhythms, although they are ostracized by their neighbors. A good many pick up and light out for the territory to establish their own communities.
Apocalypse nigh, of course, is a speculative fiction staple, and dystopia the favorite setting of current YA novels. But The Age of Miracles lacks the vitality of many of those books, such as Veronica Roth’s Divergent. Walker’s tone is elegiac, her writing elegant as Julia details both the ordinary travails of early adolescence — best friends, first loves, sleepovers, soccer games — and such extraordinary events as raging solar storms and rips in the magnetic field. It’s this counterpoint that makes for an intimate, involving narrative.
“We kids were not as afraid as we should have been,” Julia confesses. “We were too young to be scared, too immersed in our own small worlds, too convinced of our own permanence.”
How much you enjoy The Age of Miracles will depend on how much you care about Julia’s small world of family and friends — her weary mother, her secretive father, her feisty grandfather, her classmate Seth — and all the little dramas of life going on.
Open Book: I read a digital galley via NetGalley of Karen Thompson Walker’s The Age of Miracles (Random House). Soon it will disappear from my Nook, but not from my memory.