August 20, 2012

August 20, 2012

Things I’ve Read: The Age of Miracles

I read many more books than I review here. Partially because a lot of what I read is only okay, and partially because three hours of commuting per day equals a LOT of books. When I read less, I could more easily give each book a proper review. Now, something has to be Really Amazing in order to get a write-up.

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you “The Age of Miracles.” My favorite book of the year thus far.

It’s a bildungsroman set against metaphysics, but stay with me.

The bildungsroman part: Julia, a young teenager, lives in present-day California. She deals with all the sorts of things kids do: school, crushes, fashion, friends, etc. She’s old enough to see that things are starting to change, but young enough not to know how to handle the changes.

The metaphysics: One day, the world starts spinning more slowly. I mean that literally. The earth’s revolution goes from 24 hours to 24.5 hours and just keeps getting longer. If you’ve seen “2012” or “The Core,” you know the sorts of natural phenomena that start happening: birds fall out of the sky, plants whither, gravity gets stronger, and so on.

Less expected: the effects of the slowing on people. And it’s this that ties the bildungsroman and the metaphysics together beautifully. Julia’s world as she knows it comes to an end. Her parents, grandfather, friends, piano teacher—all are affected. While you expect that soccer practice will be canceled once darkness lasts for 30 straight hours and balls no longer sail through the air, you can’t foresee the ripples this will have on the players’ lives. Some conflicts are obvious—the people who insist on sticking to 24-hour days while others live by the ever-changing sun…the families that move to remote communities to await the impending apocalypse…the installation in every yard of a greenhouse and a bunker. Some less so—the removal of a beloved teacher…the breakup of a marriage…these victims are less graphic than the beached whales and dead eucalyptus trees, but no less important to Julia.

Look, I grabbed this book originally because I thought it would be interesting to see what effects a theoretical slowing of the earth’s rotation would have on nature. I wasn’t necessarily interested in reading about teenage drama; I had enough of my own to fill several books. But the effects of the slowing on the characters sucked me in. I stayed up until almost 2 a.m. on a work night to see how the thing ended. (Not with a bang, though I don’t want to spoil it.) Magnificent.

The author wrote this book in the mornings before work. It is her first novel. If only we were all this talented.

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