Sunday, January 13, 2013

The Age of Miracles (Karen Thompson Walker)

The Age of Miracles was a book that I wanted to get to in 2012 that I just couldn't fit in, so I squeezed it in at the very beginning of the year. Julia is an average preteen girl in what is a fairly modern-day California. One day, the earth's rotation slows a little bit--it there is an extra ninety minutes before the planet makes a full rotation. Each day, the slowing continues, with increasingly strange effects: gravity increases, birds fall out of the sky, people become mysteriously ill/dizzy.

I was enchanted by the premise (and promise!) of this book the moment I heard about it. I am not a very big fan of "hard" science fiction (or "hard" fantasy, either), so this seemed to me to be the perfect amount of realism and science fiction (which is, I think, why I enjoy a lot of the dystopian fiction out there so much). I noticed that a common trend in the negative reviews of the book centered on the lack of explanation/"real science" involved, and I have to say that it didn't bother me in the slightest. An in-depth discussion of the how and the why would be something I'd expect in 1) a science textbook or 2) Dune or Ender's Game or something (I've read neither of those books so am not sure how technical they are in their explanation...oops), and so I didn't feel myself yearning for the explanation. I don't feel like anything was lost from the book.

As a writer, Karen Thompson Walker is pretty phenomenal. I'm awful at blogging, so I didn't write down a single example, but the book is full of sentences that are technically astounding. On that same note, I found myself frequently annoyed by the sentences that begin and end the chapters; too often are the final sentences gratingly grandiose and the opening sentences too forcefully pensive. But these amount to two sentences per chapter against the hundreds of others that were magical. I can let it go.

The Age of Miracles is a short book, at 270 pages. I remember when I first found out about the book's length, I was disappointed. "Surely such a fascinating idea could create a book at least 500 pages long!" I thought. After finishing the book, I found myself wishing that it had been shorter. There's a Q&A at the end of the book with the author where she mentions that the idea for The Age of Miracles came from a short story she wrote, and that feels quite apparent in the middle of the book. There are ~75 pages in the middle where we get chapter after chapter about the new effects of the earth's rotation slowing, eventless moments that feel very empty and dull. The beginning and the ending are quite fantastic  (well, except for the very end where the narrative jumps ahead quite a few years--the book is narrated retrospectively from 20-something Julia), so the middle lags and looks less interesting by comparison. I couldn't help but feel that Miracles would have been better suited as a novella.

Nonetheless, Walker has created a book that is quite stunning. At times, I could feel real-life dread setting in. I started worrying about the days and nights getting longer. The fact that I was so immersed in the book is proof of how good it is. But it's marred by an overall feeling of fluff that left me feeling the tiniest bit let down.

My rating: 4/5
The Age of Miracles on Goodreads
See what I've been reading lately!

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