The Age of Miracles, by Karen Thompson Walker, is one of the most beautiful and thought-provoking books I have read in a long, long time. I read it on one of our flights to California this summer, and the story has echoed in my head ever since. On one hand, it explores a scary what-if scenario and serves as a powerful reminder of the risks of not paying careful attention to the planet on which we live. It is also, though, a call to realize that no matter what, everything is always changing.
The Age of Miracles is an elegy, as one of the blurbs on the back of the book said (elegy is one of my favorite words). It is suffused with loss and haunted by both the memory of how things used to be and by the guilt that we failed to appreciate them. The transition the book traces is dramatic, of course, but doesn’t it stand in, in a way, for the smaller but no less real changes we all face every day? On every page, as the charming tween protagonist of the book describes the tectonic shifts occuring in her world, I thought about my life’s relatively tiny but relentless transitions. It reminded me, over and over again, that even as I lean into a moment, smell the little boy smell of my sleeping son or admire the golden, maple syrup light of a July evening, it is gone.
The Age of Miracles made me think, more than anything, of all the ways we humans strive to impose structure on this chaotic, marvelous, seemingly random life of ours, of all the ways we seek to order and understand the universe’s terrifyingly fluidity. Isn’t the 24 hour clock, after all, simply a framework imposed on time in order that we may feel some modicum of control over it?
In lucid, lovely language Walker points out how surely the universe is indifferent to these attempts at control. The world spins on and on with a mute inexorability that is at once the most violent and the most beautiful thing I have ever witnessed. The Age of Miracles plumbs the space between this violence and this beauty and left me, at least, moved and stunned. I cannot recommend this book highly enough.