The Age of Miracles

Karen Thompson Walker

Random House


It was that time of life: Talents were rising to the surface, weaknesses were beginning to show through, we were finding out what kind of people we would be. Some would turn out beautiful, some funny, some shy. Some would be smart, others smarter. The chubby ones would likely always be chubby. The beloved, I sensed, would be beloved for life. And I worried that loneliness might work that way, too. Maybe loneliness was imprinted in my genes, lying dormant for years but now coming into full bloom.

                       from  The Age of Miracles


Coming of age amid global catastrophe

We didn’t notice right away. We couldn’t feel it. We did not sense at first the extra time, bulging from the smooth edge of each day like a tumor blooming beneath skin…There was no footage to show on television, no burning buildings or broken bridges, no twisted metal or scorched earth, no houses sliding off slabs. No one was wounded. No one was dead. It was, at the beginning, a quite invisible catastrophe.

In Karen Thompson Walker’s first novel the rotation of the earth has suddenly begun to slow and the days are growing longer. The Age of Miracles is a mixing of genres, the coming-of-age novel with science fiction.

Eleven-year-old Julia watches as global catastrophe becomes the new normal. There is an initial panic when the news is announced. People jump in their cars and clog the freeways—“They scurried in every direction like small animals caught suddenly under a light. But, of course, there was nowhere on earth to go.”

The birds die first, affected by the changing gravity; soon some people begin to fall ill with “gravity sickness.” As the days grow longer, a teacher replaces 24 Hours with 25:37 above a world map in his classroom, but uses a Post-it note so it can be updated. Over the coming months as the earth continues its slowing, the days will eventually become 60 hours long.

Julia’s parents and teachers try to reassure the children—“but that was the thing: We kids were not as afraid as we should have been. We were too young to be scared, too immersed in our own small worlds, too convinced of our own permanence.”

And not only the kids. Most adults, too, adjust and carry on with their lives. They go to work, continue their little adulteries and other hobbies as if nothing major was happening. Facing the potential ending of life on earth, they continue to put out the garbage and recyclables.

Much of Julia’s life is focused on school and her first crush (“I had never spoken much to Seth Moreno, but I had perfected a way of watching him that didn’t look like I was watching.”), for she and her classmates are entering the “age of miracles”—puberty, and their concerns are primarily pubertal in nature (“That bra wasn’t supporting much. Michaela was as flat as I was. But she wore it anyway, a racy symbol of things to come.”)

Unfortunately, Walker provides us no scientific explanation to account for the earth’s slowing (My own theory is that it had something to do with the outcome of the 2012 U.S. Presidential election.)

The reader is left wondering at how ordinary catastrophe can become, and it can be reassuring to see how people adapt. Or maybe not reassuring.


This review first appeared in The Columbia River Reader (October 15-November 14, 2012.) Reprinted with permission.