There’s been plenty of buzz about Karen Walker Thompson’s debut novel, The Age of Miracles. Often I’m skeptical of hype, but I did enjoy this book very much. Rather than jumping on the post-apocalyptic or dystopian bandwagon, The Age of Miracles is a slightly different genre, “speculative fiction.” It reminds me of Alan Weisman’s nonfiction thought experiment book, The World Without Us, which examines what would happen to the planet if humans disappeared. In this case, however, the premise is that the earth’s rotation – for some undiscovered and unexplained reason – has slowed.
This, of course, has immediate and drastic effects on ordinary life for the narrator, Julia, and her family and friends. Unlike most post-apocalyptic or dystopian books, here the reader gets to experience the transition itself, rather than being dropped into a world after the catastrophe – whether natural or man-made – has occurred. In addition to “the slowing,” there are the changes Julia would be going through anyway as an eleven-year-old girl; the author’s focus is on character and theme, on the effects of the slowing rather than its cause.
Julia narrates her childhood in the past tense, at a distance of several years. Her reflection is more matter-of-fact than nostalgic: “One thing that strikes me when I recall that period of time is how rapidly we adjusted. What had been familiar once became less and less so…But I guess every bygone era takes on a shade of myth” (82).
There is no definite solution to the slowing, no wrapping up of loose ends or determination of the narrator’s ultimate fate. Julia and her friend Seth’s message, written in wet concrete, serves as the conclusion: We were here.
Beautifully written and thought-provoking, I can see this inspiring great discussions in book clubs.