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The Age of Miracles: A Novel Paperback – January 15, 2013
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Amazon Best Books of the Month, June 2012: In The Age of Miracles, the world is ending not with a bang so much as a long, drawn-out whimper. And it turns out the whimper can be a lot harder to cope with. The Earth's rotation slows, gradually stretching out days and nights and subtly affecting the planet's gravity. The looming apocalypse parallels the adolescent struggles of 10-year-old Julia, as her comfortable suburban life succumbs to a sort of domestic deterioration. Julia confronts her parents' faltering marriage, illness, the death of a loved one, her first love, and her first heartbreak. Karen Thompson Walker is a gifted storyteller. Her language is precise and poetic, but style never overpowers the realism she imbues to her characters and the slowing Earth they inhabit. Most impressively, Thompson Walker has written a coming-of-age tale that asks whether it's worth coming of age at all in a world that might end at any minute. Like the best stories about the end of the world, The Age of Miracles is about the existence of hope and whether it can prevail in the face of uncertainty. --Kevin Nguyen
Q&A with Karen Thompson Walker
Q. In The Age of Miracles, you envision a natural phenomenon that threatens the entire world. This "slowing" is global, yet you decided to focus on Julia. Why?
A. Julia's voice--the voice of a young woman looking back on her adolescence--came into my head as soon as I had the idea of the slowing. It was the only way I could imagine writing the book. Adolescence is an extraordinary time of life, a period when the simple passage of time results in dramatic consequences, when we grow and change at seemingly impossible speeds. It seemed natural to tell the story of the slowing, which is partly about time, in the context of middle school. It was also a way of concentrating on the fine-grain details of everyday life, which was very important to me. I was interested in exploring the ways in which life carries on, even in the face of profound uncertainty.
Julia felt like a natural narrator for this story because she listens more than she speaks, and she watches more than she acts. I think the fact that Julia is an only child is part of why she's so observant. Julia also places a very high value on her friendships, and is unusually attuned to the subtle tensions in her parents' marriage, which increase as the slowing unfolds.
Q. The details of how such a slowing would affect us and our environment are rendered quite realistically. How did you get these details right?
A. No one knows exactly what would happen if the rotation of the earth slowed the way it does in my book, so I had some freedom. I did some research at the outset, but I came across many of my favorite details accidentally. Whenever I read an article that contained a potentially relevant detail--anything from sleep disorders, to new technologies for growing plants in greenhouses, to the various ways people and governments reacted to the financial crisis--I would knit it into the fabric of the book. After I finished the book, I had an astrophysicist read it for scientific accuracy, which was an extremely nerve-racking experience. I was relieved by how many of my details he found plausible, but made some adjustments based on what he said.
In general, I wanted my book to seem as real as possible. I recently read a Guardian interview with the Portuguese writer José Saramago, who said that his books were about "the possibility of the impossible." He explained that even if the premise of a book seemed "impossible," it was important to him that the development of that premise be logical and rational. That's exactly the way I wanted The Age of Miracles to function.
Q. Like Julia, you grew up in Southern California, where natural disasters are always looming. Do you think this influenced you in writing of The Age of Miracles?
A. I grew up in San Diego on a cul-de-sac of tract houses much like the one where The Age of Miracles takes place. In most ways, California was a very pleasant place to grow up. But it could also be a little scary. I remember how the sky would sometimes fill with smoke during fire season, how the smoke hung in the air for days at a time, burning our throats and turning everything slightly orange. I remember the way the windows rattled at the start of every earthquake, and the way the chandelier above our dinner table would swing back and forth until the shaking stopped. I sometimes couldn't sleep at night, worried that an earthquake or a fire would strike at night. But when I think of those years now, I realize that my novel grew partly out of my lifelong habit of imagining disaster.
If I've given the impression that I was constantly afraid as a child, that's not right. In fact, one of the things I remember most vividly about living in California is the way we mostly ignored the possibility of danger. We always knew that the "big one"--the giant earthquake that scientists believe will one day hit the region--could strike at any time, but mostly we lived as if it never would. Life often felt idyllic: We played soccer, we went swimming, we went walking on the beach. A little bit of denial is part of what it means to live in California. Then again, maybe that's also just part of being alive. I really wanted to capture that feeling in The Age of Miracles.
Top Customer Reviews
And then, on top of it all, there's the novel's setting - THE AGE OF MIRACLES takes place during a genuine catastrophe of astronomical proportions. For some inexplicable reason, the Earth's rotation has begun to slow down, meaning the length of the day is increasing little by little until the periods of darkness and light are so long that it takes multiple twenty-four hour periods just to see the sun rise. The ramifications of this are profound, both on the people in Walker's world and on the world itself. When it's revealed that the Earth's magnetic field has shifted, it becomes very clear that things will never be the way they once were.
The best part of THE AGE OF MIRACLES is Julia's story, and only a small part of that story has to do with the so-called "slowing" of the Earth's rotation. In a way, the science-fiction aspect of the novel is merely a backdrop to the very real and identifiable coming-of-age story.Read more ›
The premise--an ever-slowing Earth--was excellent. One I've not seen portrayed before. I really appreciated the hints of science, and the places where the book speculated on the possible results of such an occurrence.
What we don't get, though, is a possible reason for this calamity. What we also don't get, ultimately, is a satisfactory ending. At its best, "Miracles" reads like some of Ray Bradbury's more melancholy works. (Not a bad thing--I'm a big Bradbury fan.) But what Bradbury brilliantly achieves in a short story, seems stretched here to fill an entire novel.
There are a number of blind leads (discovered planets, experimental foods, etc.) and even the title itself seems, in the end, a bit deceptive. I understand that it refers to age of the main character, but with a title like that you'd expect, perhaps, a more layered meaning.
"Age of Miracles" is an interesting read with some neat ideas, but if you're an avid sci-fi reader, it probably isn't for you.
Answer these questions and you have the story of Julia, a Southern California girl of the not-too-distant future. Julia narrates the story as an adult, looking back on that first year of "the slowing." It's a foregone conclusion that the world didn't end, because she's still alive many years later to tell the story. I was still curious enough to keep reading, though. I wanted to see what sorts of climatological, physiological, and sociological changes might arise if the earth began to spin ever more slowly. Those changes I will not reveal, because they comprise the most compelling aspects of the novel.
Karen Thompson Walker is a fine representational writer. There are no heart-stopping passages, but neither are there any boring or poorly-written ones. The narrowness of the focus robs the story of a certain measure of its potential. We often see very little of what's happening in the world outside Julia's girlish set of concerns. In that sense it feels more like a young adult novel, with plenty of cross-over potential into the adult market.
What Walker does well is show how various citizen groups and government agencies behave when we are faced with a crisis. The government will always tell us to just keep shopping and all will be well.Read more ›
What we have here is a science-fiction themed coming-of-age story that narrates a year or so in the life of an 11- or 12-year-old girl. If I'd understood that this is a book for children / young adults when I started reading it, I might not be as disappointed as I was.
Age of Miracles is definitely not for adults. The writer's voice is too earnest, the science too soft, the plot and point of view explicitly adolescent.
I did find things to like about this book. On the whole, it is quite readable. The premise of the book is an interesting one, and Thompson is a writer who understands rhythm and cadence. Her voice is strong and consistent (if a bit stilted). The main character, a thoroughly unremarkable, somewhat timid woodland creature of a girl, is well-realized and persuasive; her concerns, thoughts, and actions rang true. I expect many readers, like me, will readily identify with her and want to care about what happens next to her. Sadly, not much does.
The book is readable, and yet somehow hollow and unsatisfying. The back story--that the earth's rotational spin is slowing down--would seem fertile ground for exploration, yet the devastation and chaos that would surely ensue remain stubbornly in the background and unbelievably muted. If the protagonist is well-developed, the same cannot be said of the supporting cast. They are either overtly one-dimensional or so mysterious as to remain shadow figures.
There is a flat, dead aspect to everything about the book. Perhaps that is intentional, a literary tip of the cap, as it were, to nihilism, apathy, resignation. If so, I don't think it serves the writer or reader well.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
This was a dreadful experience. I didn't care for the narrative voice or about what happened to Julia. Read morePublished 3 days ago by SPC
A dystopian future , that could in reality, happen . A work of art, raw, and thoughtfully told.
I gave it 4 stars because , I often thought the devastation happening , wasn't... Read more
I usually give a book 100 pages for it to gain momentum. This one took 150+, but it was SO worth it. Read morePublished 1 month ago by Indica Wilde
I had high hopes for this novel based on the spectacular reviews but this book fell way short for me. Read morePublished 1 month ago by rbgate
** spoiler alert ** This is the story of Julia, an 11 year old single child living in California when the world as she knows it begins to change. Read morePublished 2 months ago by Nancy A
Imagine the slow end of the world as seen through the eyes of middle school girl....that's the story here. Read morePublished 2 months ago by Roger Milligan
Too slow and repetitive. A weak ending. I would not recommend this book to another reader. A slow sometimes boring read.Published 2 months ago by J. Romanelli
Poor story development- read something else! This is a waste of time when there are so many other books to read.Published 2 months ago by kimberlee