2017-08-31 / Opinions

Book Review

The Age of Miracles
By KAREN THOMPSON WALKER
Reviewed by
PEGGY BARNETT

Ideas and stories that would once have been science fiction have become reality in our time. The kind of speculation that says, “What if?” has always been a favorite of novelists. First-time novelist Karen Thompson Walker has created The Age of Miracles to consider what life might be like under a real threat to the Earth’s continued existence.

The narrator is Julia, almost 12 years old, who tells her story several years after the “Slowing.” “If you didn’t hear the news, the landscape looked unchanged. This was not true later, of course, but for now, on this first day, the earth still seemed itself.” For some strange reason (never explained), the earth’s rotation had begun to slow.

Julia is more concerned about friends and school and soccer at first. Her mother is prone to worry and over-reaction. Her father, a doctor, is calm and approaches things scientifically.

How the situation is approached makes a difference in people’s lives at first. As the slowing continues, however, everyone begins to realize that the earth and its people may not last long, and to take measures for survival.

Julia’s best friend Hanna is a Mormon, and her family leaves for Salt Lake City for the possible end times. Julia is devastated, but picks up other temporary friends, eventually connecting with Seth, who becomes her soul mate.

“The slowing, as we came to understand, had altered gravity. Afterward, the earth held a little more sway.” Birds began to die, falling to the ground. Other animals, including the whales, were vulnerable. Julia and others came to understand that society had been worrying about the wrong things. This catastrophe was unimagined and unprepared for.

With each new morning, they fell further out of step with clocks. Midnight no longer struck at some dark hour of the night. Chaos was in the offing. Julia’s mother, like many others, accumulated emergency supplies. Famines were common in other countries, while the government and other officials struggled to cope. Plants were dying; greenhouses were established. Some tried to stay on “real time” (what the clocks said), scorning those who tried to live by light and dark, totally different from the past.

Julia’s family experienced its own tensions, perhaps not related to the slowing. Her grandfather, who lived alone, disappeared. Their neighbor Sylvia, Julia’s piano teacher, a free spirit, came under increasing criticism for her life style. Relationships suffered.

Scientists struggled to predict the future rate of the slowing. Some argued that the rotation might correct itself. Initial panic subsided as people tried to adjust, to manage. Then a new threat emerged – gravity sickness. It did not always kill, but included convulsions and fainting, and was often fatal. Julia’s mother fell victim to it. Sunlight was no longer a friend; it, too, could kill.

We want to know what happens to Julia and Seth, and her family and friends. We also are caught up in the “what if” story, wondering how we would react to such a situation, with a glance at our current environmental concerns. The Age of Miracles is available at the Mary Willis Library.

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