Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Define Miracle

I decided to read the book club runner up before the actual selection, so I'm most of the way through The Age of Miracles, by Karen Thompson Walker.  I was pretty excited about it, mostly because of some positive reviews by some of the folks I get my book recs from.  The premise is quite promising, too--it's a coming of age story set during a time when the Earth, for no discernible reason has begun to slow in its rotation. 

Each day is longer than the one before it, the light lasting longer, the night stretching on.  The story begins on the first day when the phenomenon is announced (most people haven't noticed in their day to day life; sunrise is barely an hour off of where it should be).  There are changes that are chronicled--gravity is stronger, and the birds suffer.  Crops struggle.  Something called slowing sickness affects certain people.  There is social and political tension about whether the world should function on clock time or daylight time.

But really, this is all background.  I wouldn't say that the amount of detail is dissatisfying, but the fact is that, even when the world doesn't just keep on spinning, the world just keeps on spinning.  Kids go to school, marriages contain tension, middle school friendships come and go. 

In fact, this entire review so far is misleading, because really that's what this book is about.  It's not about the world changing at all; it's about a girl going through a tough transition in middle school.   She struggles to fit in.  There's a strain on her parents' marriage, and though Julia (that's the narrator, 11-year-old Julia) pinpoints the slowing as the beginning of it, it's pretty clear that it was coming anyway. 

So really, what I see here is a coming of age novel--fairly straightforward, middle-of-the-road, slightly boring "literary fiction" (if by that you mean closely observed details of a mostly unremarkable life)--with an extended metaphor that serves as a setting and framework.  It's not bad--not at all--but I almost feel like I was sold a bill of goods, because there's just not much new here--not much insight into human nature, either through observations of the slowing or of Julia's adolescence.  I'll admit that I'm less surprised that Julia's troubled adolescence is kind of boring than I am that this account of the basics of physics being upended is kind of dull.

Again, it's not a bad book.  I think my favorite thing about it is the little hints the narrator gives to the future as she tells the story.  In some places they're short term (the car was silver, though the police report would describe it as light blue), whereas in some places they're tantalizingly long term (that was the last time we ever tasted pineapple). 

I don't expect to get a satisfying glimpse of the world post-slowing, though, because that's not what this is about.  It's not a speculative book.  In fact, the world pictured here is probably most remarkable in its mundanity in the face of 60 hour days.

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