The Ages of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker


“I guess it never is what you worry over that comes to pass in the end. The real catastrophes are always different—unimagined, unprepared for, unknown.”

The Ages of Miracles is a book about an ordinary family and the way that their ordinary lives are changed when the world itself changes in an extraordinary, yet initially subtle, way.

One day, the rotation of the earth slows. Days become a tiny bit longer. Every day, daytime stretches more, but there is no pattern to this addition; one day there may be an extra hour, the next an extra five minutes, the day after that an extra ten. Nobody knows why this is happening or what impact it will have. All they know is that the days are getting gradually longer, the 24-hour clock is getting out of sync and, of course, that life is going on regardless.

Eleven-year old Julia lives with her mother and father in California. She is a sunshine kid who lives in a stucco house in a cloudless neighbourhood. Her father is a doctor; her mother used to be an actress; her Grandfather lives nearby and keeps obstinately giving away his possessions. Her best friend is named Hanna. Julia has a crush on a boy from the neighbourhood named Seth. In other words, Julia’s world is the world of an ordinary eleven year-old girl. However, the slowing changes things. Hanna moves away to a Mormon collective in Utah with her parents, who believe the slowing is the sign of something apocalyptically big. Julia’s mother begins to get mysterious symptoms, her natural physical and psychological rhythm seemingly knocked out completely by the change in day and night. The world becomes divided into “clock-timers” (those who continue to live by the 24-hour clock and ignore the light and darkness) and “real-timers” (those who attempt to adjust to the new days and nights, ignoring the 24-hour clock completely). This divide causes problems in neighbourhoods and communities of real-timers spring up in the dessert. Seth’s mother is suffering from cancer and Julia does not know how to talk to him about anything. Bullies start getting meaner. Julia’s father starts acting strangely, staying at work late, and a distance forms between her parents.

I really like the way that the ordinary problems of growing up are intertwined with the science-fiction aspects of the story and that the differences between the two are sometimes difficult to untangle. Which events are due to the slowing and which are part of growing up? All of Julia’s problems are fairly typical, but it is interesting to think about which ones may have been intensified by the sense of impending doom that the slowing instigates in people. Could this have caused people to behave in more extreme ways, act on desires they would not necessarily have acted on before? Perhaps.

“Maybe everything that happened to me and my family had nothing at all to do with the slowing. It’s possible, I guess. But I doubt it. I doubt it very much.”

There was the sense that even the smallest, most unexpected changes can amplify things or make people act in unexpected and not necessarily positive ways. I like the idea of everything being interconnected; the social world as being a complex ecosystem that even the subtlest changes can transform beyond recognition. How would we cope with such an event as the slowing of the earth? Even small changes can have a very large social impact. This is interesting to think about in not only an environmental sense, but also in terms of changes in government, law and fiscal systems. Even subtle changes in any of these things can influence change in unexpected ways.

However, I also felt that Julia’s isolation, confusion, eventual sense of belonging and acceptance of certain things coming to pass definitely gives the sense of this being a coming-of-age story, albeit in a slightly different guise. Even in a rapidly changing world, unrequited crushes are still a major concern for adolescents. There is the sense that these inner battles are more powerful than anything that is happening externally in Julia’s world. That the angst of the adolescent experience is universal, no matter what events transpire.


2 thoughts on “The Ages of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker

  1. I loved about this book the way the story was ultimately very small, even though it was about a global catastrophe. I think it’s quite cool when authors are able to write a small personal story in what’s sort of a dystopian story. Meg Rosoff does something like that in How I Live Now. Ish. Sort of.

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