Age of Miracles (Walker)

The Age of Miracles
Karen Thompson Walker, 2012
Random House
288 pp.
ISBN-13: 9780812982947


Summary
With a voice as distinctive and original as that of The Lovely Bones, and for the fans of the speculative fiction of Margaret Atwood, Karen Thompson Walker’s The Age of Miracles is a luminous, haunting, and unforgettable debut novel about coming of age set against the backdrop of an utterly altered world.

It still amazes me how little we really knew.... Maybe everything that happened to me and my family had nothing at all to do with the slowing. It’s possible, I guess. But I doubt it. I doubt it very much.

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. (From the publisher.)



Author Bio
Birth—N/A
Raised—San Diego, California, USA
Education—B.A., University of California, Los Angeles;
   M.F.A., Columbia University
Awards—Sirenland Fellowship
Currently—lives in Brooklyn, New York


Karen Thompson Walker is a graduate of UCLA and the Columbia MFA program and a recipient of the 2011 Sirenland Fellowship as well as a Bomb magazine fiction prize. A former editor at Simon & Schuster, she wrote The Age of Miracles in the mornings before work. Born and raised in San Diego, she now lives in Brooklyn with her husband. The Age of Miracles is her first book. (From the publisher.)

Book Reviews
[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.
Michiko Kakutani - New York Times


If you begin this book, you'll be loath to set it down until you've reached its end… The Age of Miracles reminds us that we never know when everything will change, when a single event will split our understanding of personal history and all history into a Before and an After.
San Francisco Chronicle


The perfect combination of the intimate and the pandemic… Flawlessly written; it could be the most assured debut by an American writer since Jennifer Egan's Emerald City.
Denver Post


Simply told, skillfully crafted and filled with metaphorical unities, this resonant first novel [rings] with difficult truths both large and small.
Kansas City Star


Both utterly realistic and fantastically dystopian…The big miracles, Walker seems to be saying, may doom the world at large, but the little ones keep life worth living.
Minnesota Herald Tribune
 

Walker’s tone can be properly [Harper] Lee-esque; both Julia and Scout grapple with the standard childhood difficulties as their societies crumble around them. But life prevails, and the stunning Miracles subtly conveys that adapting.
Time Out New York


Part speculative fiction, part coming-of-age story…The Age of Miracles could turn Walker into American literature's next big thing.
NPR
 

Walker creates lovely, low-key scenes to dramatize her premise…The spirit of Ray Bradbury hovers in the mixture of the portentous and quotidian.
The New Yorker

(Starred review) [Walker] matches the fierce creativity of her imagination with a lyrical and portentous understanding of the present.
People


Quietly explosive.... Walker describes global shifts with a sense of utter realism, but she treats Julia’s personal adolescent upheaval with equal care, delicacy, and poignancy.
O, The Oprah Magazine


This haunting and soul-stirring novel about the apocalypse is transformative and unforgettable.
Marie Claire


(Starred review.) In this gripping debut, 11-year-old Julia wakes one day to the news that the earth’s rotation has started slowing. The immediate effects—no one at soccer practice; relentless broadcasts of the same bewildered scientists—soon feel banal compared to what unfolds. “The slowing” is growing slower still, and soon both day and night are more than twice as long as they once were. When governments decide to stick to the 24-hour schedule (ignoring circadian rhythms), a subversive movement erupts, “real-timers” who disregard the clock and appear to be weathering the slowing better than clock-timers—at first. Thompson’s Julia is the perfect narrator. On the brink of adolescence, she’s as concerned with buying her first bra as with the birds falling out of the sky. She wants to be popular as badly as she wants her world to remain familiar. 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.
Publishers Weekly


(Starred review.) In Walker’s stunning debut, a young California girl coming of age in a dystopian near future confronts the inevitability of change on the most personal level as life on earth withers … She goes through the trials and joys of first love. She begins to see cracks in her parents’ marriage and must navigate the currents of loyalty and moral uncertainty. She faces sickness and death of loved ones. ... Julia’s life is shaped by what happens in the larger world, but it is the only life she knows, and Walker captures each moment, intimate and universal, with magical precision. Riveting, heartbreaking, profoundly moving.
Kirkus Reviews



Discussion Questions
1. As readers, why do you think we’re drawn to stories about the end of the world? What special pleasures do these kinds of narratives offer? And how do you think this element works in The Age of Miracles?

2. Julia is an only child. How does this fact affect who she is and how she sees the world? How would her experience of the slowing be different if she had a sibling? How would her experience of middle school be different?

3. How much do you think the slowing alters Julia’s experience of adolescence? If the slowing had never happened, in what ways would her childhood have been different? In what ways would it have been the same?

4. Julia’s parents’ marriage becomes increasingly strained over the course of the book. Why do you think they stay together? Do you think it’s the right choice? How much do you think Julia’s mother does or does not know about Sylvia?

5. Julia’s father tells several crucial lies. Discuss these lies and consider which ones, if any, are justified and which ones are not. Is lying ever the right thing to do? If so, when?

6. How would the book change if it were narrated by Julia’s mother? What if it were narrated by Julia’s father? Or her grandfather?

7. Why do you think Julia is so drawn to Seth? Why do you think he is drawn to her?

8. Did you identify more with the clock-timers or with the real-timers? Which would you be and why?

9. The slowing affects the whole planet, but the book is set in southern California. How does the setting affect the book? How important is it that the story takes place in California?

10. How do you feel about the way the book ends? What do you think lies ahead for Julia, for her parents and for the world?

11. The slowing throws the natural world into disarray. Plants and animals die and there are changes in the weather. Did this book make you think about the threats that face our own natural world? Do you think the book has something to say about climate change?

12. If you woke up tomorrow to the news that the rotation of the earth had significantly slowed, how do you think you would respond? What is the first thing you would do?
(Questions from the author's website.)

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