Title: The Age of Miracles
Author: Karen Thompson Walker
Pub. Date: June, 2012
Summary: On a seemingly ordinary Saturday in a California suburb, Julia and her family awake to discover, along with the rest of the world, that the rotation of the earth has suddenly begun to slow. The days and nights grow longer and longer, gravity is affected, the environment is thrown into disarray. Yet as she struggles to navigate an ever-shifting landscape, Julia is also coping with the normal disasters of everyday life—the fissures in her parents’ marriage, the loss of old friends, the hopeful anguish of first love, the bizarre behavior of her grandfather who, convinced of a government conspiracy, spends his days obsessively cataloging his possessions. As Julia adjusts to the new normal, the slowing inexorably continues.
Genre: Fiction, Dystopia
When I finished The Age of Miracles I had to sit there for a few minutes to be alone with my thoughts. This book is GOOD. Really good.
On the sixth of October, the experts went public. This, of course, is the day we all remember. There’d be a change, they said, a slowing, and that’s what we called it from then on, the slowing.
Julia is 12 when the slowing happens. At first no one notices anything has changed; people go about their day like normal. It’s not until scientists and news anchors start taking over the television that anyone realizes something is wrong.
The experts on the television screen break the news to the world that the earth’s rotation has slowed. At first it was just a few minutes, the days have barely grown longer. By the end of the book the days have grown to 50+ hours. Over two full days of light and dark account for a single day for Julia. Naturally a panic arises and people (such as Julia’s mother) begin hoarding canned goods, batteries, bottles of water.
There was no footage to show on television, no burning buildings or broken bridges, no twisted metal or scorched earth, no houses sliding off slabs. No one was wounded. No one was dead. It was, at the beginning, a quite invisible catastrophe.
Despite this momentous event, The Age of Miracles is such a quiet book. I’ve seen it classified as YA (I suppose since Julia is in her teens throughout the book? Or perhaps because dystopia is such a huge trend at the moment), but I feel this quiet – almost sleepy, in a way – feel of the novel solidifies its place among adult fiction. Even labeling it sci-fi somehow feels wrong. Sci-fi to me is much louder, much more action-packed. You’d think a book about 50-hour days would be filled to the brim with action, but it’s so much more than that. This is a coming-of-age novel. Julia takes center stage against a backdrop of disaster. Her best friend doesn’t want to hang out with her anymore, she buys her first bra, she has a crush on a boy, she takes piano lessons.
All the colors of the spectrum had collapsed to a few dusky grays. There was a paleness in the classroom. That light was the light of the last small moments of a day, the thin wedge of time just after the sun has set but just before you reach for a lamp. A sudden sunset at high speed. It was 1:23 in the afternoon.
In the beginning, the slowing doesn’t seem to pose much of a problem. So what if the day became longer by a mere six minutes. As the days continue to lengthen, problems arise and I actually felt a swell of terror as Julia recounted the repercussions of the slowing: first the birds die off. They simply aren’t able to fly anymore; this new pull of gravity has altered their flight. The crops slowly die off as well. Makeshift greenhouses soak up all the electricity and become horrible expensive. Tides change. Temperatures rise to 135° on the days that sunlight lasts over 24 hours; California is assaulted with snow the days darkness holds dominion.
We were Californians and thus accustomed to the motions of the earth. We understood that the ground could shift and shudder. We kept batteries in our flashlights and gallons of water in our closet. We accepted that fissures might appear in our sidewalks. Swimming pools sometimes sloshed like bowls of water. We were well practiced at crawling beneath tabletops, and we knew to beware of flying glass. At the start of every school year, we each packed a large ziplock bag full of non-perishables in case The Big One stranded us at school. But we Californians were no more prepared for the particular calamity than those who had built their homes on more stable ground.
Eventually the government decides to simply ignore the definitions of day and night by declaring America will continue running on a 24-hour clock. Because of the slowing, however, Julia sometimes wakes up when it’s still dark out and heads into bed with the sun high overhead. Society slowly breaks into two groups: clock-timers (those adhering to the 24-hour clock) and real-timers (people who continue to go about their day when the sun is out & sleep when it’s dark, regardless of the ‘actual’ time). With each passing day, the real-timers fall further and further behind those on clock-time.
The story takes place over the course of a year (I believe) and what a year it is. It’s frightening to see just how quickly the world could collapse. At one point Julia discusses a team of astronauts who are stranded aboard a space station and can’t come home; because of the slowing, new calculations are made everyday and NASA just isn’t able to take that big of a risk to try to bring them home. That’s terrifying.
The Age of Miracles is an absolutely gorgeous novel. It sneaks up on you and once it grabs you it refuses to relinquish its hold. This is, without a doubt, a favorite book of mine. Not just for 2012, but a favorite book of all time. It’s seriously that good. I know this is a novel I’ll continue thinking about for months to come.
I wished my father were home. I tried to picture him at the hospital. Maybe babies were being born into his hands right at that moment. I wondered what it might mean to come into the world on this of all nights.
To die in childbirth seemed to me a frontier woman’s death, as impossible now as polio or the plague, made extinct by our ingenious monitors and machines, our clean hands and strong soaps, our drugs and our cures and our vast stores of knowledge.
We were, on that day, no different from the ancients, terrified of our own big sky.