The Age of Miracles

By Karen Thompson Walker

(Random House, $26, 288 pages)

Who is this author?

Karen Thompson Walker makes her debut as a novelist with “The Age of Miracles,” a fine example of speculative fiction that has earned comparisons with “The Lovely Bones” and caused Rolling Stone to dub her “the next big female novelist. Even the notoriously fussy Michiko Kakutani of The New York Times loved this book.

Thompson Walker graduated from UCLA and the Columbia MFA program and was formerly an editor at Simon & Schuster. She won the 2011 Sirenland Fellowship and the Bomb magazine fiction prize. A native of San Diego, she sets her book in California and now lives in Brooklyn with her husband.

What is this book about?

How many times have you told yourself, “slow down?” Good advice if you are stressed, but terrible if it is the earth itself that is slowing its rotation, leading to endless daylight, problems with gravity and disaster for the environment. What is a young girl to make of all this, as the end of life as we know it (and we don’t feel fine at all) looms? At home, her parents fight, old friends are lost and her grandfather falls prey to paranoia. Walker handles both the macro scientific aspects and micro family story with equal skill.

Why you’ll like it:

This sad and forbidding descent into a future that only a gifted writer could imagine is told by young Julia, and it is her voice that gives this “what-if” tale its power and poignancy and opens a door for the reader into this skewed world.

 Here is what Walker told an interviewer about why she chose to tell her story through that character:

“Julia’s voice–the voice of a young woman looking back on her adolescence–came into my head as soon as I had the idea of the slowing. It was the only way I could imagine writing the book. Adolescence is an extraordinary time of life, a period when the simple passage of time results in dramatic consequences, when we grow and change at seemingly impossible speeds. It seemed natural to tell the story of the slowing, which is partly about time, in the context of middle school. It was also a way of concentrating on the fine-grain details of everyday life, which was very important to me. I was interested in exploring the ways in which life carries on, even in the face of profound uncertainty.

Julia felt like a natural narrator for this story because she listens more than she speaks, and she watches more than she acts. I think the fact that Julia is an only child is part of why she’s so observant. Julia also places a very high value on her friendships, and is unusually attuned to the subtle tensions in her parents’ marriage, which increase as the slowing unfolds.”

What others are saying:

“In “The Age of Miracles,” the world is ending not with a bang so much as a long, drawn-out whimper. And it turns out the whimper can be a lot harder to cope with. The Earth’s rotation slows, gradually stretching out days and nights and subtly affecting the planet’s gravity. The looming apocalypse parallels the adolescent struggles of 10-year-old Julia, as her comfortable suburban life succumbs to a sort of domestic deterioration. Julia confronts her parents’ faltering marriage, illness, the death of a loved one, her first love, and her first heartbreak. Karen Thompson Walker is a gifted storyteller. Her language is precise and poetic, but style never overpowers the realism she imbues to her characters and the slowing Earth they inhabit. Most impressively, Thompson Walker has written a coming-of-age tale that asks whether it’s worth coming of age at all in a world that might end at any minute. Like the best stories about the end of the world, The Age of Miracles is about the existence of hope and whether it can prevail in the face of uncertainty,” says Kevin Nguyen for Amazon Best Books of the Month, June 2012.

“[A] moving tale that mixes the real and surreal, the ordinary and the extraordinary with impressive fluency and flair … Ms. Walker has an instinctive feel for narrative architecture, creating a story, in lapidary prose, that moves ahead with a sense of both the inevitable and the unexpected … Ms. Walker maps [her characters’] inner lives with such sure-footedness that they become as recognizable to us as people we’ve grown up with or watched for years on television… [A] precocious debut…one of this summer’s hot literary reads,” says Michiko Kakutani in The New York Times.

“[A] gripping debut . . . Thompson’s Julia is the perfect narrator. . . While the apocalypse looms large — has in fact already arrived — the narrative remains fiercely grounded in the surreal and horrifying day-to-day and the personal decisions that persist even though no one knows what to do. A triumph of vision, language, and terrifying momentum, the story also feels eerily plausible, as if the problems we’ve been worrying about all along pale in comparison to what might actually bring our end,” says Publishers Weekly in a starred review.

“This is what imagination is. In “The Age of Miracles,” the earth’s rotation slows, gravity alters, days are stretched out to fifty hours of sunlight. In the midst of this, a young girl falls in loves, sees things she shouldn’t and suffers heartbreak of the most ordinary kind. Karen Thompson Walker has managed to combine fiction of the dystopian future with an incisive and powerful portrait of our personal present,” says Connecticut author Amy Bloom.

When is it available?

“The Age of Miracles” is at the Barbour, Dwight and Mark Twain branches of the Hartford Public Library and can be requested for pick up at the Downtown library.

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