Karen Thompson Walker: The Age of Miracles (2012)

The Age of Miracles

Ever since Jacquelin Cangro reviewed The Age of Miracles, I felt like reading it. I assumed I would like it but I didn’t expect that I would love it so much. It may seem odd to love an “end of the world” story but The Age of Miracles is so much more. It’s as much the story of a disaster as a coming-of-age tale, an exploration of how we adapt to change and a meditation on the fragility of life on earth. Plus the tone of the whole book is lovely and nostalgic.

The Age of Miracles is told by 11-year-old Julia, an only child who is a bit of a loner and a keen observer. Suddenly, one day, they hear on the news that the rotation of the earth has slowed down and as a result the days have grown longer. At first this is minimal but gradually the days and nights extend until, at the end of the novel 72 hour days are followed by 72 hour nights.

The consequences are massive. Many animals and plants die. After a few months, it’s dangerous to go out during daytime as the sun’s radiation can be fatal. Plants only grow in hot houses, people need protection at all times.

Early on the government decides to disregard daylight and to stay on the usual 24 hour clock time. Opposing groups find this unacceptable and adjust to the sunlight. They stay awake longer, sleep longer. Soon there is hostility between those groups and most of the day timers flee after a while and live in communes outside of the cities.

Julia describes all this in great detail. She’s worried but is also surprised how quickly people get used to these changes. But there are many other things on her mind. She was always a loner but the slowing makes her lose even more friends. She is secretly in love with Seth Moreno who is also a loner  which makes it difficult for them to become friends but once they overcome some obstacles, they spend every minute together.

The tone of Julia’s voice and some hints, indicate that she tells this story looking back. It’s the grown-up Julia who tells about the year during which the biggest changes, in the outside world and in her personal world, take place. It’s the year of her first love, of the near collapse of her parent’s marriage and also the year in which everything anyone took for granted disappears forever.

I know that some people found the book alarming because it obviously touches on subjects like climate change and natural disasters. I was more touched by Julia’s personal story, by the tone of her voice which was infused with sorrow. There are as many scenes of great beauty as there are scenes of damage and loss. Ultimately this is a melancholic story about a long goodbye, goodbye from people, things and habits.

When I started reading, I was a bit afraid, the book would be gimmicky. It’s not. It’s a quiet, moving tale. The unusual event is just a means to tell a much deeper story; a story of change, loss and sorrow inherent to all of our lives.