Finally, someone has created a refreshing vision of the apocalypse! Let’s face it, as the Mayan calendar comes closer to its end, we have been inundated with books and movies detailing our final destruction. Karen Walker’s The Age of Miracles takes a refreshing stance on the end of the world, for instead of going out with a bang, here human life whimpers as it gradually fades away.
One day, the world simply starts rotating a bit more slowly. Right off the bat, this doesn’t sound too bad. Who couldn’t use a few more hours in the day? Well, apparently this “slowing,” as it comes to be called, has devastating effects on weather patterns, the tides, natural disasters, etc. But it all occurs very gradually – so gradual that many people just carry on with their normal routines. Of course, the government steps in when the days start getting too long, and humanity splits into those who lie off of “Clock Time” (those who continue to follow the 24 hour clock in spite of the additional hours), and those that go “Off the Clock” (the dissenters who follow the newly emerging patterns). Prejudices immediately emerge towards those who disregard “Clock Time,” as their lifestyles do not coincide with the traditional hours pushed by the government.
In the midst of this havoc, our twelve-year-old narrator, Julia, is just trying to make it through middle school, which is tough enough when the world is not ending. While her peers are concerned about who is having the most elaborate birthday party this year, Julia is genuinely concerned about her parents’ marriage, her grandfather’s health, and whether or not Seth Moreno will ever return her affections. All-in-all, her narration provides a realistic glimpse into a young girl coming of age during a time of catastrophe. With concerns that bounce between legitimate worries about the planet and social acceptance from her classmates, Julia’s perspective feels impressively authentic.
While Walker can be a bit heavy-handed at times as she repeatedly stresses that life does go on, on the whole, her novel is startling in the manner that humanity handles a crisis of this magnitude – we are briefly stunned and concerned, but gradually resume all former aspects of selfishness and petty rivalry. In a situation as this where the world ends very, very slowly, this behavior is probable. While reading, I briefly found myself disagreeing with Walker – surely we would band together and find a resolution? We could find a rag-tag team of oil drillers and send them to blow up that asteroid…errr, I mean speed the earth back up. But no, people are concerned with self-preservation, but since the threat is not immensely immediate, the novelty of saving the planet quickly wears off. Sadly, this is likely an accurate portrayal of how the human species would handle such a situation. If the Mayans are correct, we better hope the end is quick.