They call it the slowing – the unexpected, inexplicable, quietly disastrous deceleration of the earth’s rotation. There are no predictions of its impending occurrence, or Armageddon-esque missions to prevent it – the slowing just happens, and continues to happen. The seemingly ordinary Julia wakes up on an ordinary Saturday after an ordinary sleepover in an ordinary house in an ordinary suburb and hears (along with her ordinary parents) the obviously un-ordinary news that the earth’s rotation on its axis is in fact slowing, and will continue to slow indefinitely.
What makes Karen Thompson Walker’s debut novel quite brilliant is her decision to tell the story of the slowing through the voice of Julia, an 11-year-old girl with parents, a best friend, and two cats. The dichotomy between the extraordinary slowing and the ordinary Julia blurs, merges, overlaps, and swaps places repeatedly throughout Walker’s narrative. Everything from Julia’s best friend and the suburb she calls home, to her parents’ marriage and school bus stop sheds the facade of “ordinary”. Do all things become extraordinary because of the slowing? Does the slowing become ordinary when life is so? Or, can the slowing only be blamed for certain phenomena? Lengthened periods of light and darkness, drastic tide changes, agricultural failures, altered laws of physics, mass extinctions of entire species. Julia herself is never really quite sure.
I mostly enjoyed The Age of Miracles – it couples a coming-of-age story with a sci-fi plot set in a dystopian near-future. Often, there are instances when familiar moral questions are raised – persecution of outsiders (“real timers”), the human impact on planet earth, and the purpose of existence. Conversely, Julia recounts the universally familiar (but perhaps not so grand) personal experiences of middle-school loneliness, first crushes, loss, and marital troubles. Sometimes, I noticed Walker overreaching in her effort to draw parallels between the microcosm of Julia and the macro phenomenon of the slowing; however, such flaws do not warrant distraction from the promise of this debut novel.
-Signing off, Jenny Barrows (who is confident that she would be a “real timer” if the slowing actually happened….or just a very batty librarian)