Karen Thompson Walker’s enchanting debut novel, The Age of Miracles, follows the life of a young girl in the suburbs beginning with the day the earth’s rotation mysteriously begins to slow, throwing the world as we know it into a kind of controlled chaos.
We didn’t notice right away. We couldn’t feel it.
We did not sense at first the extra time, bulging from the smooth edge of each day like a tumor blooming beneath skin.
As the slowing becomes more severe, and days stretch to sixty hours, humans must decide whether to follow their circadian rhythms or obey a government mandate to live on “clock time,” going on as if nothing has happened. Reminiscent of the 2011 Lars von Trier film Melancholia, The Age of Miracles is a kind of pre-Apocalypse story, as opposed to the post-Apocalypse novel (an excellent example of which is Julianna Baggot’s terrific novel, Pure).
Unlike most end-of-the-world stories, there is no violence here. Instead, Thompson focuses on an 11-year-old girl’s perception of unfolding events: her coming-of-age angst, her love for a boy with a dying mother, the disintegration of her own family life. The global chaos is only hinted at, as the narrator’s life goes on much as it had before. She goes to school, faces bullies, and anxiously watches her neighbor, who has chosen to follow the ever-changing rhythms of the sun instead of the increasingly meaningless clock time. The Age of Miracles is a very sweet, engaging story, one which stayed on my mind as I went about my day. What is missing in terms of concrete information about the slowing (the changes in the magnetic field, as well as “the sickness” and shifts in weather and the , are dealt with in a vague, dreamy way) is made up for in the narrator’s voice–innocent, full of wonder. We don’t know how the world will end; what we do know is that the narrator survives to adulthood (she tells the story from this vantage point), in a world irreversibly altered from the one that she knew as a child.
The most interesting idea of The Age of Miracles is this: we prepare for all sorts of contingencies. We worry about global warming, warfare, chemicals in our water. And yet what destroys us may turn out to be something we never imagined.
We had rockets and satellites and nanotechnology. We had robot arms and robot hands, robots for roving the surface of Mars…And yet, the unknown still outweighed the known. We never determined the cause of the slowing…
You might also like: The Drowning House, by Elizabeth Black