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Off the Shelves: 'Age of Miracles' offers an original premise and strong storytelling

POSTED: May 20, 2012 7:00 a.m.

Why is it that so many authors and filmmakers love to depict deteriorating futures in which our daily lives become worse and worse? And why are we so entertained by franchises that promote these themes?

Understandably, this is more dramatic than a bright, no-worries future, and such stories teach us moralistic lessons about how we should uphold and never surrender our virtues so, hopefully, we don’t allow such dark futures ruled by greed and hate to come into existence.

In Karen Thompson Walker’s upcoming novel “The Age of Miracles,” she presents a unique scenario for the future in which no one has control over the changes undergoing the world. And she shows us through believable storytelling how people would adapt — or not — to a rapidly, irreversibly decaying planet.

“The Age of Miracles” is told from the viewpoint of 11-year-old Julia, who, along with the rest of the world, discovers the earth’s rotation is slowing down and the days and nights are growing longer and longer.

Gradually, plants die from having too much sunlight or not enough; birds fall dead out of the sky; people contract a “gravity sickness” that ravages their bodies.

There is much dissension between those who wish to remain on the normal 24-hour clock (despite that days and nights no longer correspond to it), and those who wish to live in “real time” with the ever-extending rhythms of the earth.

As if Julia’s coming-of-age dilemmas weren’t complicated enough, she struggles to cope with the rising tensions between her parents, her unstable friendships with her classmates, and the emotional changes occurring within herself while the world seems to be falling apart.

This novel focuses not so much on the “slowing” (a scientific explanation is never given for why the planet’s rotation has slowed), but on the characters’ decisions and reactions to the events taking place.

There is a wide range of personalities all with their own unique viewpoints that Walker molds deftly and lovingly — there are no “bad” characters in this novel — and Julia is an appealing character who displays both the precarious awkwardness and the budding rebelliousness of adolescence.

She isn’t written as a sort of “role model” for young female readers, but she is natural and honest, not always having the answer but doing the best she can to keep going and struggle through complicated situations.

There is also something satirical about this story, regarding the “real-timers” versus the “clock timers.” It is a whole new breed of prejudice, as real-timers are shunned and even threatened by those who stay on the clock.

And it gets intense enough that real-timers begin to move out and build separate communities out in the California deserts. It seems a bit ludicrous for people to get so passionate about time and how we define it. Is it by the man-made devices we use to track it, or by the cycles of nature which can suddenly flux?

But when you think about how much our civilization has been built on the concept of time, the one thing that should be an untouchable constant, maybe it’s not so far-fetched to see how its disruption would bring out the worst in us.

“The Age of Miracles” is a beautiful debut for Walker, with a creative premise that makes it stand out among the array of dystopian-themed novels that have flooded the literary market as of late.

It will be released in bookstores on June 26, and hopefully time won’t slow down before then to make us wait any longer.

Alison Reeger Cook is a Gainesville resident whose Off the Shelves book review appears every other week in Sunday Life. Know of a good book to review? Email her to tell her about it. Her column appears biweekly and on gainesvilletimes.com/life


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