For melodramatic adolescents, every little thing that goes wrong feels like the end of the world. For Julia, the tween protagonist of The Age of Miracles, this actually is the case.
The debut novel from Karen Thompson Walker combines the pensive reflection of a coming-of-age tale with the worldwide destruction of impending global catastrophe. It's a story both grand in scale and intimately personal, told from Julia's perspective as an adult looking back. She's 11 and living in Southern California when "the slowing" begins. Her biggest concern is that the boy she secretly adores doesn't seem to know she exists. Then one morning the news spreads that Earth's rotation has begun to slow. The disaster takes on a melancholy intrigue when told through simple yet elegant prose. "We did not sense at first the extra time, bulging from the smooth edge of each day like a tumor blooming beneath skin," Julia laments.
At first nearly undetectable except in the measurement of daylight and darkness, hours have been added to each day and night. World governments decide to cope by adhering to the clock anyway, and so Julia continues to go to school in the dark and attempts to sleep through "white nights." Factions of "real timers" form their own colonies, refusing to live by a clock that is no longer relevant. But by the time days and nights have each stretched to 60 hours, it's clear everyone is screwed. Crops and animals die, nights become freezing, and the sun blasts Earth with radiation through our disintegrated magnetic field. It's an intriguing apocalypse, rendered with just enough detail to feel plausible.
Julia continues to live her life—worrying about her parents' increasingly fragile marriage, forming a bond with the boy—because what else can she do? Simple rites that would seem trivial when facing catastrophe become all the more important because of it. Though its momentum and direction begin to fizzle toward the end, The Age of Miracles manages to weave an endearing story about both the value and irrelevance of time.
GO: Karen Thompson Walker reads at Powell's City of Books, 1005 W Burnside St., 228-4651, on Thursday, July 19. 7:30 pm. Free.