Jacquelin's Reviews > The Age of Miracles

The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker
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's review
Mar 06, 2012

really liked it

Now I know why I don’t read dystopian novels often…they freak me out so much that I lose sleep. They pose “what if” questions of an altered world that cause my pulse to race and make me want to dig some kind of fortified shelter in the basement. The Age of Miracles poses a very simple question with very complex (and disastrous) answers: What would happen if the earth’s rotation slowed so much that each day became more than 60 hours long?

At the Brooklyn Book Festival, I had the chance to sit in on a panel discussion with Karen Thomson Walker, the author of The Age of Miracles. She said her story was “enhanced reality” and that it was important for authors of dystopian fiction to make the impossible seem possible by always serving the story. Meaning that the “out there” elements should not be absurd for absurdity’s sake.

The story is narrated in first person by an 11-year-old girl who must make sense of the ever-changing world order while also navigating everyday life: the disintegration of her parent’s marriage, her first crush, boys taunting her at school. I appreciated the spare style and straightforward, un-neurotic storytelling. The author certainly has great control over her prose. I did wonder why this story wasn’t classified as YA. It certainly has all of the necessary elements, and I’ve read racier subject matter in plenty of YA novels. I suppose that was a marketing decision, rather than an authorial decision.

While there aren’t any hard and fast solutions to a situation like this, the ending wasn’t quite as satisfying as it could have been. I think my qualms about the ending were a byproduct of the retrospective narrator. Had the narrator been in the present moment, I suspect I would have felt more at ease with the ending. Some folks seem to be frustrated by the lack of sophisticated science of it all. This wasn’t an issue for me, maybe because I’m not a rabid dystopian, but if you are, I could see how this could cause you some annoyance. (Walker did have the manuscript vetted by an astrophysicist, she noted at the festival) Again, I think this is an issue caused by the retrospective narrator. If the narrator is looking back on this story, she knows more now than she did then. She could go into more details.

Walker said she’d gotten the kernel of the idea for the story from an article she read following the terrible 2004 tsunami which said that the inciting earthquake was so powerful, it altered the earth’s rotation ever so slightly, by just a millisecond or so. That was enough to get her mind wandering. What if that happened but in a major way? What if the earth slowed so much as to make our very existence uncertain. But then the reader realizes through the well-crafted subplots that life is uncertain. There are no guarantees, and that was the most haunting aspect of all.

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