[the book rat project] Week 17: Very, very good, but not quite a miracle.



It's time for another installment of the Book Rat Project, the sustained experiment in which a book critic (my Phoenix colleague Eugenia Williamson) attempts to act as a human algorithm for a willing subject (me).


This time around Eugenia picked The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker. She based her pick on my general love of speculative fiction, and the flood of fantastic blurbs Walker has received for her freshman effort.


On a Saturday morning, a few months before her thirteenth birthday, Julia and her friend Hanna awake after a sleepover. It seems like just another ordinary weekend; Julia’s mother takes the car and goes out for bagels while her father puts on the coffee pot. Moments later, Julia’s mother returns in a state of panic, storms into the house and turns on the television. There are no images of burning buildings, no riots or floods, and this somehow makes the news all the more ominous: during the night the rotation of the Earth has inexplicably slowed; the day has grown by fifty-six minutes, no one knows why, and the slowing is only expected to get worse.


While it might be characterized by some as another entry into the genre of apocalyptic fiction, that fact is that this novel is more than that. The narrative is conveyed as one long, sustained flashback, a record being left behind by a lonely woman that came of age on a mysteriously dying planet, a woman that has spent her life confronting questions without definitive answers and problems with, at best, temporary solutions.


At its core The Age of Miracles is about confronting the unknown. It is a novel of less science—though Walker has done an admirable job on that front—and more fiction.


In many ways The Age of Miracles is a more character driven, more elegant version of Spin, by Robert Charles Wilson (also worth a read); Wilson gives his readers a grand--if overwritten--tome, filled with brilliant scientists, new-age theologians, and powers that are, temporarily, beyond human understanding. In contrast, Thompson’s The Age of Miracles feels microcosmic, efficiant , stripped down; there are no answers or reprieves, just the voice of Julia as she struggles to find her place in a changing world that makes very little sense.


It’s a voice that, while not pitch perfect, is well worth hearing and enjoying.


The Book Rat Letter Grade: A-


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