September 17, 2012

The Age of Miracles

THE AGE OF MIRACLES by Karen Thompson Walker is a recent debut that received a lot of attention from critics, and for good reason. This is a gripping, beautifully told story that builds from an ingenious premise.

In THE AGE OF MIRACLES, the rotation of the earth begins to slow. Scientists announce that for no reason they can explain, the planet is taking an hour longer to revolve. The slowing, as it comes to be called, increases with each rotation, and the days and nights become longer and longer.

I love to see a good what-if explored well, and Walker does an incredible job of imagining the repercussions as the slowing grows worse. The change in the earth's rotation affects gravity and the magnetic field, longer days and nights impact ecosystems and crops, and everything that's happening changes human society in a variety of ways that all seem both plausible and insightful.

Walker, perhaps recognizing that one of the most immutable forces in modern civilization is the horror of middle school, presents the story from the viewpoint of an 11-year-old girl. Julia is a thoughtful, lonely child, unpopular for no reason she can explain. The boys pick on her and the girls don't invite her to parties, and the slowing doesn't change the misery of her school life. (Until I wrote out that description, I didn't really think about how fully I identified with Julia. I've tried to repress my memories of middle school.)

As Julia navigates sixth grade and watches problems develop in her parents' marriage, the slowing and its effects keep growing worse. Sometimes the events of the slowing are a background to Julia's coming-of-age, and sometimes they have a direct impact. The threads of the story blend together wonderfully. I was torn between not wanting to stop reading and not wanting to reach the end.

It probably goes without saying at this point, but this is a heavy, depressing book. As long as you're up for that, I highly recommend it.

Good Stuff Out There:

→ Chris Abouzeid at Beyond the Margins considers what writers can get out of the subjects they avoided in high school: "Huge portions of the working world deal in numbers: not just scientists and mathematicians, but tax auditors, computer programmers, game designers, pilots, actuaries, economists, bankers, carpenters, musicians, even drug dealers. If some of these showed up in my work, would I need to study calculus to draw their characters accurately? No. But think how much more convincing they would be if I understood what they do and how that affects their worldview."


Laurenhat said...

Ooh! What's the writing style like? Heavy on description, or more page-turner (action/dialogue)?

Lisa Eckstein said...

It didn't feel description-heavy to me. It's mostly scenes and summaries of things happening, and for me it was a page-turner. It's also a fairly short book, under 300 pages, and considering how much is packed into it, the book has to move pretty quickly.

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