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The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker

June 10, 2013

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What would happen if the earth gradually, and inexplicably, began to slow in its rotation? What would happen to agriculture? Animals? Society? And what would it be like if the most important change in human history happened when you were only eleven years old? The Age of Miracles is about answering all of these questions.

In the not-so-distant future experts notice a subtle change in the length of a day. The earth has begun to spin ever so slightly slower. For reasons unknown “the slowing” continues over the course of a single year to the point where daylight lasts for 40 clock hours at a time only to be followed by 40 more hours of night.

The implications are huge, especially for the young protagonist of this novel. The complicated events that occur during the slowing are told from her perspective as she navigates the equally confusing labyrinth of middle school in America. As an adolescent she has no way of fully comprehending the physics behind the slowing and I think this saves the story.

I could see the same events written from the perspective of a much older protagonist, but that would change the deepest meaning of the work from a story about the effects of small changes on the lives of ordinary people to something from science fiction. Walker just uses this changing landscape as the backdrop for a more intimate story. In any other format the author would need to explain the why (although I found the physics part of my brain struggle to answer this question throughout). The narrative is simple and innocent and creates the intricacies of a world that is so rich and interesting that you can’t help but think about it long after the book has been closed.

I had a hard time, at first, suspending my disbelief and accepting the initial events, but just accepting that first postulate was well worth it. The consequences of the slowing in the world Walker creates around her characters fascinating. Some might be expected – the deterioration of the magnetic field (from dynamo theory), the influx of harmful solar and cosmic radiation without the protective magnetic shield, the death en masse of animals that rely on magnetic navigation – but some came as a surprise: the effect of excessive periods of sunlight on decision making and impulsivity. It’s the littlest things that cause the biggest changes to life as humans know it on planet Earth.

I really enjoyed this book. It stayed with me, and forced me to think, not just about the characters, but the world they lived in. I sometimes felt the author’s presence in ways I didn’t care for. The little 11-year-old protagonist is a shy, quiet girl without friends in middle school. She seems to ruminate on her solitude in a way that only an adult, looking back on childhood loneliness, would. Walker might have waned a little autobiographical at such times, but they were few and far between and as a whole the narrative voice was lovely.

This book tells a story of difficult times and what might be the beginning of the end for humankind. There was no doubt this story was going to be sad. But at the same time I found it to be beautiful and interesting; the concept alone sucked me straight in. An excellently quick read that’s going to stay with me for quite a while.

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From → Fiction

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