“The Age of Miracles”

Unruly writers are drawn to fiction because with a magic wand, or a few keyboard strokes, miraclesyou can make amazing things happen.

But if you want to hang onto your reader you can’t do that.

A writing professor once told me that in fiction you can have ONE fantastical thing happen, only one, even in a novel. And that fantastical thing should happen right up front, preferably before the novel even starts.

Although first-time novelist Karen Thompson Walker went to a different a different university, she clearly got the same rule. Her one fantastical thing—which happens as her novel begins—is a doozy.

The earth’s rotation slows down.

A lot.

As The Age of Miracles opens, a day has suddenly lengthened by 56 minutes.

Complications, of course, ensue.

Julia, our protagonist and narrator, is in the sixth grade. Her voice, that of someone who is under-informed, but nonetheless hopeful, is perfect for the story.  Even the adults are under-informed. No one knows what is causing the slowing, even, or especially, the scientists, “But we suspect it will continue.”

Julia is so anchored in truth and reality it is no problem swallowing that speculative bit. Julia worries about her parents and the unspoken fissures in their marriage—“my father said nothing, one of his specialties”–and about boys, and about her friends, or the lack of them. Her best friend Michaela, decamps to Utah right away as her family assumes this is the end of days.

As the Slowing continues, politics and science do battle. There are ‘real timers’ who live by the sun time, and the rest of the world that lives on the 24 hour clock, as “light becomes unhooked from day”.

“Danger, like potatoes, breeds in the dark.” Thompson’s experience as a book editor is obvious. Her sentences are beautiful, but not ostentatiously so, they are always in service of the story, which becomes more elaborate, though not fantastical, as people try to figure out how to manage, as things become heavier, as we pass the “wheat point”, when crops will not grow in natural light.

A five-bikini novel.

But don’t be wearing your bikini when days are 72 hours long or you will risk life-threatening sunburn.

 

About Karen Ray

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