Friday, November 30, 2012

The Age of Miracles

I read this FANTASTIC book called The Age of Miracles, by Karen Thompson Walker - it was so good, and I just want the whole world to read it.  It's about... the end of the world, sort of.  This girl and her family live in California, and pretty soon they and the rest of the planet discover that the earth is spinning more slowly.  By about a minute slower a day, if I remember correctly.  At first everyone freaks out, and they cancel school and work for a week or so.  And some people move out to Utah and start end of the world colonies and whatnot... but what's really interesting is how, after the initial shock, people sort of return to life as usual.  Aside from the planet's actual orbit changing, the life of the teenage character, Julia, continues in the somewhat standard manner.

Partly this is a rather brilliant commentary on how all events are like the end of the world to teenagers, but what really struck me, and maybe this is just me... but what I felt was this larger metaphor of how we react to global catastrophes.  For example, right now global warming is this really serious situation, and I feel pretty strongly that we're all pretty much going to die from it in the relative near future.  But, the average person doesn't really spend much or any of the day fretting or doing much about it, they just carry on with life, even though this major, global, disaster is literally getting worse every minute.  But, also, it's like, what are we going to do?  Just, freak out for like, the next 20 years or whatever?  Just ... constantly freak out?  That doesn't make sense.

Thompson Walker really thought through the implications of the earth spinning slower.  So, after a while, the day gets really, really long - I love how she dealt with the reality of time in her story (You know I'm nutso about Time and Space, y'all.)  Because the Earth spins slower, gravity changes slightly - how does that effect people.  How does it effect crops, and so on?

Most of all I loved the pacing of the book.  It frequently reminded me of Eugenides' Virgin Suicides, which has a beautiful, yearning, slow pace.  Both books are simply exemplary for their treatment of the contemporary suburban American teenager.

We were Californians and thus accustomed to the motions of the earth. We understood that the ground could shift and shudder. We kept batteries in our flashlights and gallons of water in our closet. We accepted that fissures might appear in our sidewalks. Swimming pools sometimes sloshed like bowls of water. We were well practiced at crawling beneath tabletops, and we knew to beware of flying glass. At the start of every school year, we each packed a large ziplock bag full of non-perishables in case The Big One stranded us at school. But we Californians were no more prepared for the particular calamity than those who had built their homes on more stable ground.

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