Monday, May 14, 2012

The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker

     Karen Thompson Walker's debut novel is narrated by Julia, who is only 11 years old when "the slowing" begins.  She recalls the ordinary Saturday in southern California when news stations announced that the Earth was slowing at an alarmingly fast rate.  Eventually, days expand to more than 70 hours, which sets off a chain of unimaginable ecological and environmental consequences.  Birds can no longer fly, marine life can no longer depend on natural ocean currents, and temperatures range from extreme heat to extreme cold across the span of a single day.

     While some believe "the slowing" to be a natural part of the Earth's patterns, others predict a fiery apocalypse.  Yet in the midst of panic, paranoia, and chaos, Julia and her family try to maintain some semblance of normalcy - birthdays and anniversaries are still celebrated, school is still in session, and people still go to work and run errands.  And for Julia, "the slowing" does not affect the onset of puberty and her first crush.

     The Age of Miracles is not just a coming-of-age novel.  It's about the way people cope with disasters, and how our modern culture is frighteningly dependent on predictable patterns and routines.  If these constants dissolve, does civilization also disintegrate?  How do we maintain motivation, positivity, and ambition if fundamental truths are shattered?  And how do we arrange our priorities in the midst of chaos and disaster?  Such are the questions explored through Julia's narrative as she and her family experience a suspension of time, yet also a new sense of urgency.

      The Age of Miracles emits feelings of perpetual summer - a sense of wonder, possibilities, and a strange numbness to danger and threats.  The world is literally stopping and the ecosystem is collapsing, yet many people still go to work, school, soccer practice, and piano lessons.  The human ability to cope with change can be quite powerful when it needs to be.  And while some people in the novel adapt better than others, The Age of Miracles showcases the mental and emotional aspects of natural selection on large-scale proportions.  While some characters' ties to sanity quickly unravel, others prepare for the worst but remain in forward motion.

     This novel is a poetically written and poignant portrayal of the ways we respond to crises.  And whether we endure global or personal disaster, our greatest fear is not that we will perish, but that our stories and experiences will not retain the permanence and importance that we ascribe to them.  We have a strong desire to leave a legacy, and Karen Thompson Walker's novel expertly explores this universal and fundamental instinct.  The Age of Miracles will be released on 6/26/12

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