The Age of Miracles – Karen Thompson Walker

The Age of Miracles are one of those books I’ve owned for a long time and haven’t gotten around to, until now. This is a post-apocalyptic, coming-of-age, young adult (?) novel – all things I’m not as keen on now as I might’ve been a few years ago. That being said, I liked it – but I’m probably not going to keep it on my shelves, ya know?

The Age of Miracles is told through a young girls’ perspective, in first person, as she sees the world around her change. Over the night, the day has lengthened by however many minutes – and so, the days are growing longer. At first, this creates confusion but most people aren’t taking it seriously. Everything in the girls, Julia’s, life still seems normal – California hasn’t changed much, neither has anywhere else on Earth over the world. Not on the outside, but still – the days keep getting longer with each passing day. Eventually it starts creating problems; sicknesses, shortage of food and energy, crime rates escalate, etc. – basically, the change of the days growing longer at first a rather “invisible” catastrophe, the signs of something changing and having its effect on Earth comes to the forefront.

As I said, this is a post-apocalyptic, or maybe even just apocalyptic sort of story. But even though the people of Julia’s own life, or the people of the world, know that earth is going to shit – there’s no real expiration date, no big war or finale battle. There’s no deadline, nothing – instead there’s just this increasing dread with each passing day and a fear of the unknowable future and yet a future speaking of more disaster to come. One of the things I liked about this book is just that – the fact that there’s no big natural catastrophe changing the entire world or that there’s a seeable disaster to come. Because no one knows what is happening, what is going to happen – even as Julia is obviously speaking from the future, she still hasn’t got all the answers. Because of this, there’s this sense of uncertainty and confusion that is rare in these types of stories. It’s like nothing I’ve ever read, I haven’t really read any post-apocalyptic stories as far as I’m aware and I liked how it sparked thoughts while I was with my nose in this book.

Another thing I liked was Julia’s coming of age story. She has problems any teenager/child would or could experience, like having a crush on someone who doesn’t pay any attention to you and maybe don’t even know you exist. Like losing friends, feeling lonely, feeling like an outcast and feeling the ground underneath you is disappearing. Her story, set in this changing world on the outside – and her own small world, no less real, is perfect for the story as a whole. It gives it a grounding it would probably lack, had it been told more in the ways it’s told when it’s not reflecting on Julia in California but more to the general state of humanity. I’m not much for young adult stories anymore, because I tend to find teenagers annoying (the whiny, the tropes and all that) and I still don’t always love the whole “OMG he is holding my hand” but for the most part, I think writing the story through her lense was smart and worked.

I will say, though, that I wasn’t that impressed with the writing. I liked the ideas – as I said, the things are changing, and what the fuck is happening, but nothing is happening, but it is – just slowly – aka the apocalyptic story concept. I liked the coming of age storyline fine, I think some moments were done really well. There would be some sections written in a beautiful way. For instance, there’s this part where Julia describes Seth’s dad, or rather the lack of him:

“He was the coffee cup in the kitchen sink, the cigarettes in the ashtray out back, the lab coat slung over the banister. He was a name on the envelopes that piled, unopened, in a huge stack by the door, a voice in the phone instructing Seth to order pizza, eat without him.”

There would be these pieces of beautiful writing intertwined to the narrative. It wasn’t so much a question of beauty, as to why I didn’t jell with the writing. Walker had a tendency to do a thing, over and over, in her writing; where she would say something, and then refer to a different time. Like say something about the past, from a future perspective. Sentences like “We didn’t know then..” sort of thing would be very frequently used. My problem wasn’t so much that 1) the story is told as if Julia is telling you something that happened in the past, she’s in the future telling you these things or 2) that she is letting you know she’s in the future and referring back and forth. The thing I didn’t like is that she is referring to things, but we don’t actually get to see much of these times and moments that are referred to. Like, for example – we don’t get to see much of the time in the future she is talking from. We don’t get to see the actual progression, we don’t get to see the moments. In general I guess her writing style is the “tell, not show” where I wanted the opposite. I think I might also have disliked her frequent use of “We” when describing the people around her, human kind, in one fell swoop. I feel like Walker’s style of writing kept me at a distance, like I wasn’t supposed to be a part of this place or else listening to two people’s intimate conversation and not being invited into the conversation. Occasionally there’s a tendency for clichés to in the writing, which I’m kind of allergic too. The end for example, ugh – please surprise me when you’re going to write the last line of a novel with this big of an idea.

So to sum up, I kind of liked this book – it was interesting and entertaining, but it’s not a book I’m going to keep, neither am I interested in reading more of Walker’s writing (I just didn’t jell, sorry). Maybe give it a go if you like YA-coming of age type stories and especially if you like apocalyptic/post-apocalyptic novels!

Until next time,

Natalie

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