“We were, on that day, no different from the ancients: terrified of our own big sky.” The Age of Miracles, Karen Thompson Walker
An estimated 25,000 people in Rochester, New York, are reading Karen Thompson Walker’s The Age of Miracles. Karen is currently in Rochester for three days visiting schools, libraries, and universities as part of the Writers and Books- sponsored “If All of Rochester Reads the Same Book 2015.”
Yesterday, I had the pleasure of attending one of Karen’s readings at a local college, which was well attended by book lovers and book clubs alike. Many of the attendees have participated in “If All of Rochester Reads” since its inception 15 years ago.
The Age of Miracles is a heart-breaker. After this one, I am going to have to lay off reading dystopian literature for a while.
Eleven-year-old Julia is living the ups and downs of a California childhood when, one day, this announcement is all over the new: scientists have learned the Earth’s rotation has slowed. The days and nights are growing longer and will most likely continue to do so. Life on Earth will never be the same. It is, in fact, very likely coming to an end, and “not with a bang, but with a whimper,” as Karen has said in an interview.
The world slows down with terrible consequences, while Julia copes with difficult friendships and betrayals, falls in love with Seth, and watches the possible dissolution of her parents’ marriage. The Age of Miracles is adult fiction, but it has had great appeal in the young adult market. I’ve read excellent adult dystopian literature recently (The Bone Clocks and Station Eleven), books that offer hope for the redemption of humanity. There is little hope in The Age of Miracles, which is one reason it is so powerful: we watch the blossoming of youth and young love in a world that is going dark.
Climate change and global warming are being hotly debated in the real world, but in The Age of Miracles, the catastrophe has nothing to do with human action. It just happens. Because blame and controversy over who is at fault are removed, the story is free to focus on the characters and how they mature and make ethical choices (or don’t) in impossible circumstances.
Karen said during her reading yesterday that the title of her book refers to both the miraculous time of adolescence as well as the miracle of the earth’s slowing. The miracle in the world Karen creates is an extraordinary, inexplicable event, but in this case one that does not bode well for the human race. It suggests that we humans are not the center of this vast, unknowable universe; the universe can carry on quite well without us.
I found myself, like Julia, not wanting to turn back time, but wishing I could change the laws of nature and reinvent my relationship with time.
“How much sweeter it would be if life happened in reverse, if, after decades of disappointments, you finally arrived at an age when you conceded nothing, when everything was possible.”
Karen is at work on a second novel which will once again place people in an extreme situation.
Click here for a fascinating list of post-apocalyptic/dystopian/utopian/speculative fiction. Jose Saramago’s Blindness stunned me when I read it several years ago; I went on to read all of his other work and I hope to take another look it someday. Saramago’s writing is difficult – he writes page-long sentences with little punctuation – but if you fall under his spell, there is absolutely nothing like it. I haven’t read P.D. James’ The Children of Men, but I remember when my husband and sons and I watched the movie directed by Alfonso Cuarón – an afternoon of movie-going we’ll never forget. Nor will we forget reading aloud the final scenes of The Giver when the boys were young.
Then there’s The Hunger Games (the trilogy) and the ongoing excellent movie series. Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go is another all-time favorite of mine. (He has a new book, The Buried Giant, a kind of apocalyptic fantasy I’ve yet to read). Nevil Shute’s On The Beach was probably one of my first exposures to apocalyptic fiction many years ago.
If you have strong opinions about any of the books or movies on this list, I’d loved to hear your comments.
If All of Rochester Reads has greatly enriched Rochester’s literary scene. I wrote about our 2014 choice, The Snow Child by Iowyn Ivey, which I loved. Another Rochester Reads favorite of mine is Bel Canto by Ann Patchett. Just so you know, Nancy Pearl, one of America’s greatest librarians, had the brainchild of an entire city reading the same book. She founded the program in Seattle and it has since been adopted by many cities.
Have you read The Age of Miracles? What/Who is your favorite dystopian novel or author? Does your city or town have an annual reading event?