I have thought a lot about The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker since I finished reading it. I read it almost as soon as I received it in the mail and I’ve had a lot of time to think about it. The more and more I think about it, though, the less I am truly sure what my opinion of this coming-of-age story is.
The Age of Miracles is the story of the earth’s slowing. When the earth’s rotation slows and the days get longer and longer, Julia and the rest of the world try to go on living their life as normally as they can. They keep to a 24 hour clock, waking and going about their days in darkness some days and sleeping through the sunshine. Gravity and climate change affect daily life. There is a mysterious illness associated with the slowing. Everything from the way we grow plants to when we sleep is thrown into uncertainty.
I suppose, in a sense, the ultimate takeaway from this novel is that life goes on in a disaster like this. Will husbands stop cheating on their wives if the world ends? Will middle schoolers stop being, well, middle schoolers just because there might not be a tomorrow? Will first love be any less bittersweet because suddenly the sun is too strong for people to walk outside? The title The Age of Miracles comes from a moment when the narrator, an adult Julie (therefore ruining any suspense about the fate of humanity, since we know that, at the very least, Julie becomes a young adult) compares the time when we are between childhood and adolescence “the age of miracles.” But so too is the earth slowing a horrific kind of miracle.
I was so excited for The Age of Miracles. That amount of anticipation is bound to lead to some kind of disappointment. If you’ve already practically written the book in your head before you’ve read it, it’s never going to live up to your expectations, and that was part of my problem with The Age of Miracles. It never quite was the book I wanted it to be.
This is not a science fiction novel. There is fictional science in this story and it plays an integral role in the story, but at the core of this story is that life goes on. The changes in Julia’s life start with the slowing of the earth, but they would have happened without it, too. Instead of the slowing of the earth being what the story is about, it is simply a metaphor for the upheaval of adolescence. Is there something wrong with that? Not particularly, I just didn’t think it was as interesting a story as it could have been. The Age of Miracles is a melancholy novel and I think the tone works, especially considering the fact that Julia is telling her story as an adult. Julia has some nostalgia for this tumultuous time period, when everything was new and terrifying.
Ultimately, I found The Age of Miracles to be uneven. The characters were very one-note, but I can see how this could come about from the narration style. Julia, after all, would only remember her father a certain way, not necessarily for the complex man he was. But this is also my problem with an adult narrator telling about their childhood: it’s such a limited focus. I wanted to move beyond Julia’s vision.
Some of the details of this novel, though, were perfect. Thompson Walker diligently researched what could possibly happen if the earth’s rotation slowed, and these were some of my favorite parts of the novel. I could have read 100 pages more about the way the world reacted to the slowing instead of Julia’s own small world.
And we’re, unfortunately, back again to the novel I wanted to read, instead of the novel I did read. Sometimes when anticipation is that high, it is the reader’s fault that the novel didn’t live up to the anticipation. Sometimes it is the novel’s fault. In this case, I think it was a little bit of both. The Age of Miracles is good, but it could have been great.