July 3, 2012

Book Review: The Age of Miracles

The Age of Miracles book coverThe hottest days of summer and the coldest days of winter are my best reading times.
I gobble up books on these summer days as quickly as I can devour an orange pineapple soft serve at the local Tastee Freeze.
When someone whose literary judgment I trust and admire recommended “The Age of Miracles,” I thought it sounded interesting. The title itself grabbed me. Of course I was thinking of the line, "The age of miracles hadn't passed, and suddenly I saw her there, and through foggy London town, the sun was shining, everywhere." This book is not about the Gershwin song, though the shining sun is everywhere.
Little did I know that "The Age of Miracles" would be one of those books I could not put down, and days later still be reeling from its simple yet compelling story.
The story is told from the POV of a young girl who lives in the San Diego area with her family. She’s an only child and like many only children finds herself an uncomfortable fulcrum between her parents’ differing views of the world.
Young Julia is going through her own adolescent changes. On one horrible day, the earth slows. But for Julia, the pace of change in her life only accelerates.
Over time, the earth slows more and days are longer. These changes play out throughout the story in large and small ways, which I won’t deliberate on for fear of ruining the plot twists. Julia’s tiny world – a typical suburban neighborhood – suffers all the problems of the changing world on a smaller scale. Yet the emotional problems become larger as the days grow longer. Friendships and stable relationships change and waver as in the heat of the sun.
First-time novelist Karen Thompson Walker is a master of pacing. Throughout the book there is a natural pacing between day and night, and she uses this cadence to move everything forward, plot, characters, even small aspects of nature like bugs and birds.
Having read this book last week on the eve of one of the most destructive weather weekends, I am still reeling from the questions it brought up in me about climate change. Last weekend saw the Chicago-to-Delaware “derecho” storm that brought 95 mph winds and destruction. The Colorado fires still burn out of control. ( According to Space.com, a “Leap” second was added on Saturday to allow for the slowing earth to catch up with our most accurate clocks. All these things are even more crystalizing and spooky to me after the time with Walker’s book.
The book, which was published last week, is climbing quickly up the charts of All the Usual Suspects. Works like this are by no means new. Every generation has its end-of-age fiction. Critics have compared the work to Ray Bradbury’s 1954 “All Summer in a Day.” Bradbury, who passed last month, imagines earthlings on Venus dealing with a sun that only shines every seven years.
What I liked so much about this particular book was that it combined end-of-age with coming-on-age and put a different point of view on a very old story.
The book cover photograph is from the author's web site.