“Five thousand years of art and superstition would suggest that it’s the darkness that haunts us most, that the night his when the human mind is most apt to be disturbed. But dozens of experiments conducted in the aftermath of the slowing revealed that it was not the darkness that tampered most with our moods—it was the light.”
Karen Walker’s beautiful novel “The Age of Miracles” take place in a world where the rotation of the earth is constantly slowing. As each day grows longer, the possibility of the end of human civilization looms larger. For a young girl named Julia, the “slowing” catapults her into adulthood, ending her childhood in one fell swoop and forcing her to come to terms with the world, and what it can do to us.
Aside from anything else, Walker’s novel is a fantastically well-thought-out science fictional world. Things like plants, UV radiation, and the earth’s magnetic field have a regular and concrete effect on the story. Casual asides throughout the story about the slowing’s effect on different people in different parts of the world give the story a feeling of depth. The world feels so real that it’s sometimes hard to remember that it’s totally impossible.
As Neil Gaiman once put it, all books have genders. This book is absolutely a girl. Julia is just leaving a world where relationships are easy, simple, and effortless.
Julia is herself a complicated character, and her relationships with other girls are accordingly multilayered. Her feelings towards her mother, who is phsychologically devastated by the slowing, her relationships with her friends, and even her friendship with an odd woman living across the street, are anything but simple.
Growing up is about learning that your relationships with other women are complicated, and can never be taken for granted. It is also about learning how to deal with men, who seem so alien and yet have such an important effect on every woman’s life. Julia falls in love for the first time, and has to confront her own vulnerability.
In the end, perhaps that it what the novel is all about: coming to terms with the fragility of everyone’s existences. Leaving behind the age of miracles, the age when anything seems possible and when the future is nothing but bright.
Julia’s story takes place against the backdrop of a world where no one knows what the next day may bring, where people vanish to live in “real time,” and where every single human being is reminded of the transitory nature of existence every time the sun rises.