The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker is the kind of book that makes the real world seem false; as though the only true reality is the one on the page. It is sharper and more laden with feeling than the real world.
The events of the story are laid out in such a way that it forces the reader to come to terms with the fragility of our version of Earth. I am reminded of Melancholia, the 2011 Lars von Trier movie. It gives me the same feeling of instability; like humanity is about to have the rug pulled from under us, just when we thought we had it all figured out.
The book begins on the day that the Earth’s rotation changes. The first day after the “slowing” is 25 hours long instead of 24. The next day is longer and the day after that, longer still. Eventually, the days are so long that time bears no relation to what it looks like outside, and a choice must be made. Some people choose to live on “real” time, waking with the sun and only sleeping when it is dark, sometimes for 20 or more hours at a time. Others stay on clock time, ignoring the comings and goings of the sun and going about their lives on a 24 hour schedule. This leads to some really interesting problems between the real timers and the clock timers.
Overall, this is an amazing book. From page one I was hooked. How hooked , you ask? Well I started The Age of Miracles the day before my birthday and, in spite of the really fun day I had planned, spent half of it curled up on the couch reading. Luckily, the book is a fast read so I had plenty of time left for birthday shenanigans after I finished. But I really couldn’t put it down.
Walker is incredibly successful in blending realistic literary writing with speculative themes. She explores ideas that would normally by found in a hard science fiction novel but her wonderful characterization of Julia makes it more than sci-fi. The story becomes real; the slowing of the Earth becomes a possibility and the book will be taken more seriously as a result.
But I do have one problem with the book. It’s not huge, but it’s been rankling me ever since I finished reading the final chapter. If you haven’t read the book yet, just know that it is definitely worth reading, and stop reading here. Thanks for reading but I don’t want to ruin it for you. Seriously.
Ok, the final chapter. Julia is twenty three, and humanity sending out a spacecraft, a sort of time capsule full of human memorabilia. The hope is that some other species will find it and know that humans existed. This part, I loved. The uncertainty and the sadness was very real and it is not hard to imagine humanity coming to this point. This isn’t where I have the problem. The trouble arises because Julia is twenty three. Throughout the rest of the book, the world is rapidly disintegrating and populated by humans who are stumbling through the remains of a crumbling civilization. At the end of the previous chapter, I wouldn’t have given the Earth another year of survival based on Walker’s descriptions. And then suddenly, more than ten years have passed. It’s unfortunate, because this small detail was the only thing I didn’t like, but it kind of ruined the ending for me.
That being said, 99.99% of the book was amazing and I highly recommend it.