Karen Thompson Walker – The Age of Miracles (Book Review)

The Age of Miracles cover

Karen Thompson Walker – The Age of Miracles

Karen Thompson Walker’s The Age of Miracles is a first-person account of an apocalypse. When the Earth’s rotation begins to slow down for unknown reasons, both society and the environment fall apart. The narrator, Julia, is a middle-school girl whose coming of age is intertwined with changes for all humanity.

Don’t think too much about the science behind this. If such a thing were to happen, I believe the changes in temperature and atmosphere would actually be a lot more extreme than the book shows, and anything that relied on satellite communication would probably break right away. But that’s not supposed to be the focus of the book, anyway. Walker is more interested in her characters and they ways they’re affected.

The problem is that the characters aren’t good enough to carry the book, either. The cast was very well-planned, with motivations that feel realistic and play off each other in interesting ways. But the novel rarely gives the characters much more warmth than that initial outline must have had. Interactions are shallow and uninteresting, and Julia’s narration gives no emotion to most important events. Julia is a poor choice for narrator. She’s a passive observer who doesn’t even take action the rare times that something truly matters to her. Sometimes narrators like this work because it makes them a good stand-in for the reader, but if so they need to have something interesting to say. Even her “growth” in the later part of the book has more to do with how other people decide to treat her than with anything she does.

This aspect does slowly improve as the book goes on, though. Several people have subplots, a few of which are interesting. Near the end, some emotional events happen that Julia finally feels strongly about, and they work. Walker can write powerful prose when she focuses on simple human tragedies like a loved one dying.

On a broader scale than the main characters, this book’s portrayal of humanity also seems weak. From the moment scientists announce that the Earth’s rotation has changed, a country full of people who didn’t believe in global warming is suddenly paying rapt attention and panicking. People actually move out of state less than a day after the event happens. Within a couple months, there is such a wide gulf between people who stick to a 24-hour clock and people who adjust to the ever-lengthening days that ex-friends are already vandalizing houses and turning each other in to the police. Governments seem to be strangely passive as their systems collapse, and while I can believe that no one ever finds a solution to the problem, I’d expect some systemic reactions to it.

The Age of Miracles is a simple read that still took me a while to get through. It’s not a bad book, really, but it is a bland one. For all its attempts to humanize a fictional apocalypse, its main strength is satisfying an abstract curiosity about what will happen next. There’s a decently-structured plot, just little reason to care.

Grade: C

 
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