Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION
Slow-brewing apocalypse like living through puberty in dark, serious debut novel
Forget meteors, a plague or nuclear fallout. It turns out living through the end of the world could end up being a lot like living through puberty.
This American debut novel is both a well-researched and realistic look at how society might cope with a gradual but certain apocalypse, and a very moving coming-of-age story.
Author Karen Thompson Walker's protagonist is an awkward 11-year-old, Julia, who wakes up one morning in her California home to the news the world is changing.
While she struggles with the trauma of first kisses and training bras, Earth is going through its own trauma -- called "the slowing."
For unknown reasons, the planet's rotation is slowing. That means days and nights start getting longer. Within a few months the world is dealing with the catastrophic fallout of 48 hours of intense sunlight, followed by 48 hours of icy darkness.
The Age of Miracles has echoes of such speculative and apocalyptic fiction as Jose Saramago's Blindness and P.D. James's The Children of Men.
Like those two, Walker, a former New York book editor, gives a piercing and often harsh insight into how easily society adapts to massive -- but gradual -- life-altering changes.
Hollywood disaster movies make it is easy to think we would come together to save the world in the face of a crisis. But the reality Walker paints is not nearly as heroic.
As the days and nights get longer and longer, people worry more about such mundane problems as how to keep their lawns green than how to grow crops to feed the starving.
The slow-brewing apocalypse also underscores the Julia's torment at being 11 going on 12 and feeling like an outsider at school and in her own body.
"This was middle school, the age of miracles, the time when kids shot up three inches over the summer, when breasts bloomed from nothing, when voices dipped and dove," Walker writes.
"No force on earth could slow the forward march of sixth grade. And so, in spite of everything, that year was also the year of the dance party."
Julia is a sharp observer who watches the adults around her make decisions that bit-by-bit erode their humanity. And as Julia is discovering, maybe you can blame the apocalypse or maybe that's just what happens when you grow up.
Kids in every generation have to deal with the fact that they are growing up in a changing world. Puberty is the time when you realize adults aren't infallible.
And for pre-teens, that knowledge can be just as terrifying as an apocalypse.
But though The Age of Miracles is a dark and serious novel -- without a trace of humour -- it is also sweetly nostalgic.
Walker uses the apocalypse as a very real and chilling reminder of what we stand to lose as a society, and a poetic metaphor for all that we outgrow and leave behind as individuals:
"It was a rough crossing, the one from childhood to the next life. And as with any other harsh journey, not everything survived."
Joanne Kelly is a journalism instructor at Red River College. Follow her on Twitter @joannemkelly.
The Age of Miracles
By Karen Thompson Walker
Random House, 269 pages, $30
Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 1, 2012 J9
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