books

Book Club: The Age of Miracles: A Novel

The book club is back!  It went on hiatus when the girl who started it quit her job and went traveling around the world with her boyfriend.   Cool, huh?  Anyway, Ruth started it back up again and our first novel was The Age of Miracles: A Novel by Karen Thompson Walker.  Skimming through amazon.com’s reviews, I gathered that this was my type of book.  I’ve always been a fan of dystopian novels such as Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World and Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake. The online description:

On a seemingly ordinary Saturday in a California suburb, Julia and her family awake to discover, along with the rest of the world, that the rotation of the earth has suddenly begun to slow. The days and nights grow longer and longer, gravity is affected, the environment is thrown into disarray. Yet as she struggles to navigate an ever-shifting landscape, Julia is also coping with the normal disasters of everyday life—the fissures in her parents’ marriage, the loss of old friends, the hopeful anguish of first love, the bizarre behavior of her grandfather who, convinced of a government conspiracy, spends his days obsessively cataloging his possessions. As Julia adjusts to the new normal, the slowing inexorably continues.

Human behavior fascinates me and human behavior under pressure even more.  I was curious to see how Walker’s characters would react to the changes, and curious to read about the predicted resulting scientific changes on Earth.  Perhaps people see what they want to see, but when reading about the novel, I completely missed that it was actually more of a coming-of-age story more than anything else.  The rest was just background– situations and settings to help develop Julia’s story.  WARNING: I’m going to write freely about the novel, so there may be spoilers.

First, the good things.  I thought the background story was really cool.  The slowing of Earth’s rotation and the consequential lengthening of days– I’m curious to know how this would actually affect people. Would our internal body clocks adapt to the change or would it mess us up?  What would cause this to occur and how would it affect the other planets?  So many possibilities!  In The Age of Miracles, most people react as expected– people panic and think the world is coming to an end.  No surprise– people freak out over much smaller events, like when the year 2000 approached.  In the story, the lesson that I learned is that no matter what’s going on in our environment, life goes on.  The earth’s rotation may be slowing and exposure to sunlight may become highly harmful, but life goes on.  Julia experiences loss and love just like any other pre-teen girl (possibly more than usual for her age).  She catches her father with another woman, forced to recognize that parents are people just like everyone else, hardly the perfect examples that we once naively expected them to be.  Julia’s experience triggered my memory of making that realization for myself in high school (in a completely different situation). I liked that Julia’s life wasn’t unbelievably happy– the best friend abandons her, the grandfather dies in an unfortunate accident, the mother goes through a breakdown, and her first boyfriend becomes ill and moves away.  Not that her life was portrayed as one big tragedy, but her life was real with both ups and downs.

As real as her life seemed, I felt uncomfortable with Julia’s development.  Her reactions to her life’s event were strangely stoic.  When Julia catches her father holding suitcases at her neighbor’s house, I felt a sense of anger and betrayal for her– surely this would have a long-term effect on her. Her father had been portrayed as the strong parental figure, a moral compass, the glue that held the family together.  All that was shattered in a heart-breaking moment. Julia is angry at her father but manages to hide it from her mother, and doesn’t seem to be affected much after that.  I expected to see more growth as a character through her different life experiences, but she seemed to stay the same over time.  For a coming of age story, I would especially expect to see more development.  It just felt too simple.

Overall, it wasn’t bad but it wasn’t amazing and I wouldn’t read it again.  It had a lot of potential, either going the sci-fi direction or the coming-of-age direction, but it seemed to partially develop both without really standing out in either area.  It was Walker’s first novel and received a lot of good reviews so maybe it’ll appeal more to others, but I was somewhat disappointed.

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