Saturday, September 29, 2012

Book Club Revisited: September 2012

Book Club Revisited Pick #5: The Age of Miracles, by Karen Thompson Walker

Corey chose this month's book, and he chose well.  Karen Thompson Walker's debut novel, The Age of Miracles, was actually on my to-read list, so it felt nice to kill two birds with one stone (or book, if you will).  All four of us members loved this book; it might be our favorite BCR read so far. 

The Age of Miracles takes place during a time known as "the slowing," when earth's days start getting longer and longer with each passing moment.  Day and night begin to mean very different things.  People sleep when the sun is shining.  "Real time" communes dedicated to following circadian rhythms rather than the more obtuse "clock time" spring up all across the country.  The world is ending; everyone knows it and no one can do anything about it.  But the book isn't worried about the world so much as it concerns itself with an adolescent girl whose normal concerns about friends and boys clash with her worries about death and decay.  Narrator Julia is in middle school, and the title comes from the fact that Julia and her classmates are changing exponentially as human beings.  It just so happens that the world around them is changing as well.

This is one heartbreaking little novel.  Julia is likable, and it's hard to read her story and not remember an age when I too felt so terrified and lonely.  Loneliness, in fact, is one of the major themes of this book.  Being that I've been thinking about loneliness a lot lately, about how it is almost a personality trait more than a condition, Julia and her problems resonated deeply with me.  When Julia strikes up a relationship with the mysterious and lovely Seth Moreno, you want to cheer for her.  But then you remember what is happening around her - "gravity sickness" that might be fatal, the large-scale deaths of birds and whales, the fact that the prolonged sunlight is making people a little crazy.  Nothing can be normal.  Tragedy is waiting around every corner.

Walker's writing is strong, and her characters feel fleshed out without becoming heavy or taking the focus away from Julia.  What amazes me about Walker's work here is the way she treads the line between sentimentality and cruelty.  At every minute, things feel like they could be taken away.  And yet we still feel comfortable enough with these characters and the graceful storytelling to continue to root for Julia, her family, and the disarming Seth.  During our book club chat, all of admitted that we cried at some point.  I actually managed to make it until the very last page of the book before I finally teared up.  It's a quiet little book that tackles big subjects with just the right tone.  I look forward to seeing what Walker does in the future. 

Up next for Book Club Revisited:  Mike picked Salman Rushdie's children's novel, Luka and the Fire of Life.  I know absolutely nothing about this book, so it should be interesting.