It’s hard to resist the gravity of Brooklyn author Karen Thompson Walker’s debut novel, “The Age of Miracles.” Within the first few pages, we learn that the rate of the Earth’s rotation has suddenly begun to slow — adding, at first, minutes to each day.
Unlike most apocalypse stories, which start with a bang, Walker’s novel immerses us in a world that is slowly grinding to a halt. “It felt more interesting to tell a story where the rate of the destruction was slower, because that allowed for a wider range of reactions and a more nuanced reaction to the catastrophe,” says Walker, who enlisted an astrophysicist to review her first draft.
“It just felt a little more realistic,” she continues, “If I were reading a story like that, it would seem more convincing than something that changes the world overnight.”
“The slowing,” as it comes to be known, has as profound and damaging an effect on the human body and mind as it does on the Earth. But, as the days and nights become longer, it becomes difficult to identify which symptoms are due to disrupted circadian rhythms and which are due to stress and fear over not knowing whether the slowing of the planet will indeed mean the end of the world.
“I wanted to write a story that was partly about adapting to this changed world,” Walker says, “And partly about wanting to carry on with whatever pieces of ordinary life it’s possible to continue on with.”
All of this is observed through the eyes of 11-year-old Julia, who lives with her parents in a California suburb. While the world slows, Julia’s maturation accelerates — that is, if we define maturity as the ability to adapt when our perceived world falls apart (in Julia’s case, both literally and figuratively).
Though the premise of “The Age of Miracles” brings to mind current environmental concerns, Walker says that the novel is not meant to be a statement on climate change. Though, she says, “I did try to learn from climate change both what’s happening in terms of climate change but also the debates that surround it, how people conceive of and respond to it. I did try to learn from that as I tried to predict and figure out how my characters would respond to similarly slow-paced disaster.”
Walker’s grim hook certainly keeps the pages turning. If only we were as hooked to the real-life story.