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A Novel

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On Sale: June 26, 2012
Pages: 304 | ISBN: 978-0-679-64438-5
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Synopsis|Excerpt

Synopsis

NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY
People ∙ O: The Oprah Magazine ∙ Financial Times ∙ Kansas City Star ∙ BookPage ∙ Kirkus Reviews ∙ Publishers Weekly ∙ Booklist
 
With a voice as distinctive and original as that of The Lovely Bones, and for the fans of the speculative fiction of Margaret Atwood, Karen Thompson Walker’s The Age of Miracles is a luminous and unforgettable debut novel about coming of age set against the backdrop of an utterly altered world.
 
NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER
 
Maybe everything that happened to me and to 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.”
 
Spellbinding, haunting, The Age of Miracles is a beautiful novel of catastrophe and survival, growth and change, the story of Julia and her family as they struggle to live in an extraordinary time. On an ordinary Saturday, Julia awakes to discover that something has happened to the rotation of the earth. The days and nights are growing longer and longer, gravity is affected, the birds, the tides, human behavior and cosmic rhythms are thrown into disarray. In a world of danger and loss, Julia faces surprising developments in herself, and her personal world—divisions widening between her parents, strange behavior by Hannah and other friends, the vulnerability of first love, a sense of isolation, and a rebellious new strength. With crystalline prose and the indelible magic of a born storyteller, Karen Thompson Walker gives us a breathtaking story of people finding ways to go on, in an ever-evolving world.
 
Praise for The Age of Miracles
 
“A stunner.”—Justin Cronin
 
“A genuinely moving tale that mixes the real and surreal, the ordinary and the extraordinary, with impressive fluency and flair.”—Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times
 
“Gripping drama . . . flawlessly written; it could be the most assured debut by an American writer since Jennifer Egan’s Emerald City.”—The Denver Post
 
“If you begin this book, you’ll be loath to set it down until you’ve reached its end.”—San Francisco Chronicle
 
“Provides solace with its wisdom, compassion, and elegance.”—Curtis Sittenfeld
 
Don’t miss the exclusive conversation between Karen Thompson Walker and Karen Russell at the back of the book.

Excerpt

1.

We didn’t notice right away. We couldn’t feel it.

We did not sense, at first, the extra time, bulging from the smooth edge of each day like a tumor blooming beneath skin.

We were distracted, back then, by weather and war. We had no interest in the turning of the earth. Bombs continued to explode on the streets of distant countries. Hurricanes came and went. Summer ended. A new school year began. The clocks ticked as usual. Seconds beaded into minutes. Minutes grew into hours. And there was nothing to suggest that those hours too weren’t still pooling into days, each the same, fixed length known to every human being.

But there were those who would later claim to have recognized the disaster before the rest of us did. These were the night workers, the graveyard shifters, the stockers of shelves, and the loaders of ships, the drivers of big-rig trucks, or else they were the bearers of different burdens: the sleepless and the troubled and the sick. These people were accustomed to waiting out the night. Through bloodshot eyes, a few did detect a certain persistence of darkness on the mornings leading up to the news, but each mistook it for the private misperception of a lonely, rattled mind.

On the sixth of October, the experts went public. This, of course, is the day we all remember. There’d been a change, they said, a slowing, and that’s what we called it from then on: the slowing.

“We have no way of knowing if this trend will continue,” said a shy bearded scientist at a hastily arranged press conference, now infamous. He cleared his throat and swallowed. Cameras flashed in his eyes. Then came the moment, replayed so often afterward that the particular cadences of that scientist’s speech—the dips and the pauses and that slight Midwestern slant—would be forever married to the news itself. He went on: “But we suspect that it will continue.”

Our days had grown by fifty-six minutes in the night.

At the beginning, people stood on street corners and shouted about the end of the world. Counselors came to talk to us at school. I remember watching Mr. Valencia next door fill up his garage with stacks of canned food and bottled water, as if preparing, it now seems to me, for a disaster much more minor.

The grocery stores were soon empty, the shelves sucked clean like chicken bones.

The freeways clogged immediately. People heard the news and they wanted to move. Families piled into minivans and crossed state lines. They scurried in every direction like small animals caught suddenly under a light.

But, of course, there was nowhere on earth to go.

2.


The news broke on a Saturday.

In our house, at least, the change had gone unnoticed. We were still asleep when the sun came up that morning, and so we sensed nothing unusual in the timing of its rise. Those last few hours before we learned of the slowing remain preserved in my memory—even all these years later—as if trapped behind glass.

My friend Hanna had slept over the night before, and we’d camped out in sleeping bags on the living room floor, where we’d slept side by side on a hundred other nights. We woke to the purring of lawn mower motors and the barking of dogs, to the soft squeak of a trampoline as the twins jumped next door. In an hour we’d both be dressed in blue soccer uniforms—hair pulled back, sunscreen applied, cleats clicking on tile.

“I had the weirdest dream last night,” said Hanna. She lay on her stomach, her head propped up on one elbow, her long blonde hair hanging tangled behind her ears. She had a certain skinny beauty that I wished I had too.

“You always have weird dreams,” I said.

She unzipped her sleeping bag and sat up, pressed her knees to her chest. From her slim wrist there jingled a charm bracelet crowded with charms. Among them: one half of a small brass heart, the other half of which belonged to me.

“In the dream, I was at my house, but it wasn’t my house,” she went on. “I was with my mom, but she wasn’t my mom. My sisters weren’t my sisters.”

“I hardly ever remember my dreams,” I said, and then I got up to let the cats out of the garage.

My parents were spending that morning the way I remember them spending every morning, reading the newspaper at the dining room table. I can still see them sitting there: my mother in her green bathrobe, her hair wet, skimming quickly through the pages, while my father sat in silence, fully dressed, reading every story in the order it appeared, each one reflected in the thick lenses of his glasses.

My father would save that day’s paper for a long time afterward—packed away like an heirloom, folded neatly beside the newspaper from the day I was born. The pages of that Saturday’s paper, printed before the news was out, report a rise in the city’s real estate prices, the further erosion of several area beaches, and plans for a new freeway overpass. That week, a local surfer had been attacked by a great white shark; border patrol agents discovered a three-mile long drug-running tunnel six feet beneath the U.S./Mexico border; and the body of a young girl, long missing, was found buried under a pile of white rocks in the wide, empty desert out east. The times of that day’s sunrise and sunset appear in a chart on the back page, predictions that did not, of course, come to pass.

Half an hour before we heard the news, my mother went out for bagels.

I think the cats sensed the change before we did. They were both Siamese, but different breeds. Chloe was sleepy and feathery and sweet. Tony was her opposite: an old and anxious creature, possibly mentally ill, a cat who tore out his own fur in snatches and left it in piles around the house, tiny tumbleweeds set adrift on the carpet.

In those last few minutes, as I ladled dry food into their bowls, the ears of both cats began to swivel wildly toward the front yard. Maybe they felt it, somehow, a shift in the air. They both knew the sound of my mother’s Volvo pulling into the driveway, but I wondered later if they recognized also the unusually quick spin of the wheels as she rushed to park the car, or the panic in the sharp crack of the parking brake as she yanked it into place.

Soon, even I could detect the pitch of my mother’s mood from the stomps of her feet on the porch, the disorganized rattle of her keys against the door—she had heard those earliest news reports, now notorious, on the car radio between the bagel shop and home.

“Turn on the TV right now,” she said. She was breathless and sweaty. She left her keys in the teeth of the lock, where they would dangle all day. “Something God awful is happening.”



We were used to my mother’s rhetoric. She talked big. She blustered. She overstated and oversold. God awful might have meant anything. It was a wide net of a phrase that scooped up a thousand possibilities, most of them benign: hot days and traffic jams, leaking pipes and long lines. Even cigarette smoke, if it wafted too close, could be really and truly God awful.

We were slow to react. My father, in his thinning yellow Padres t-shirt, stayed right where he was at the table, one palm on his coffee cup, the other resting on the back of his neck, as he finished an article in the business section. I went ahead and opened the bag of bagels, letting the paper crinkle beneath my fingers. Even Hanna knew my mother well enough to go right on with what she was doing—hunting for the cream cheese on the bottom shelf of the refrigerator.

“Are you watching this?” my mother said. We were not.

My mother had been an actress once. Her old commercials—mostly hair care and kitchen products—lay entombed together in a short stack of dusty black videotapes that stood beside the television. People were always telling me how beautiful she was when she was young, and I could still find it in the fair skin of her face and the high structure of her cheekbones, but she’d gained weight in middle age. Now she taught one period of drama at the high school and four periods of history. We lived 95 miles from Hollywood.

She was standing on our sleeping bags, two feet from the television screen. When I think of it now, I imagine her cupping one hand over her mouth the way she always did when she worried, but at the time, I just felt embarrassed by the way the black waffle soles of her running shoes were twisting Hanna’s sleeping bag, hers the dainty cotton kind, pink and polka-dotted and designed not for the hazards of campsites but exclusively for the plush carpets of heated homes.

“Did you hear me?” said my mother, swinging round to look at us. My mouth was full of bagel and cream cheese. A sesame seed had lodged itself between my two front teeth. “Joel!” she shouted at my father. “I’m serious. This is hellacious.”

My father looked up from the paper then, but still he kept his index finger pressed firmly to the page to mark his place. How could we have known that the workings of the universe had finally made appropriate the fire of my mother’s words?
Karen Thompson Walker

About Karen Thompson Walker

Karen Thompson Walker - The Age of Miracles

Photo © © Ramin Talaie

Karen Thompson Walker is the author of The Age of Miracles, which was a New York Times bestseller. She was born and raised in San Diego and is a graduate of UCLA and the Columbia MFA program.  A former editor at Simon & Schuster, she wrote The Age of Miracles in the mornings before work--sometimes while riding the subway. She currently lives in Iowa with her husband. 

Praise

Praise

Praise for The Age of Miracles
 
“[A] moving tale that mixes the real and surreal, the ordinary and the extraordinary with impressive fluency and flair … Ms. Walker has an instinctive feel for narrative architecture, creating a story, in lapidary prose, that moves ahead with a sense of both the inevitable and the unexpected … Ms. Walker maps [her characters’] inner lives with such sure-footedness that they become as recognizable to us as people we’ve grown up with or watched for years on television… [A] precocious debut…one of this summer’s hot literary reads.”--Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times

“THE NEXT BIG FEMALE NOVELIST.” --Rolling Stone

THE SUMMER BOOK.” --Vanity Fair.com

“[AN] EARTHSHAKING DEBUT.” –Entertainment Weekly
 
“Part speculative fiction, part coming-of-age story…The Age of Miracles could turn Walker into American literature's next big thing.”--NPR
 
 “A tender coming-of-age novel.”--Maureen Dowd, The New York Times
 
“Walker creates lovely, low-key scenes to dramatize her premise…The spirit of Ray Bradbury hovers in the mixture of the portentous and quotidian.”--The New Yorker

“[Walker] matches the fierce creativity of her imagination with a lyrical and portentous understanding of the present.”--People (4 stars)

“This haunting and soul-stirring novel about the apocalypse is transformative and unforgettable.”--Marie Claire

“Quietly explosive … Walker describes global shifts with a sense of utter realism, but she treats Julia’s personal adolescent upheaval with equal care, delicacy, and poignancy.”—O, The Oprah Magazine

“Haunting.”--Real Simple

“If you begin this book, you'll be loath to set it down until you've reached its end… The Age of Miracles reminds us that we never know when everything will change, when a single event will split our understanding of personal history and all history into a Before and an After.” –The San Francisco Chronicle

“The perfect combination of the intimate and the pandemic…Flawlessly written; it could be the most assured debut by an American writer since Jennifer Egan's ‘Emerald City.’”--Denver Post
 
“Touching, observant and poetic.”--The Columbus Dispatch
 
“Simply told, skillfully crafted and filled with metaphorical unities, this resonant first novel [rings] with difficult truths both large and small.”--Kansas City Star

"The Age of Miracles lingers, like a faded photo of a happy time. It is stunning.”–Cleveland Plain Dealer

“Both utterly realistic and fantastically dystopian…The big miracles, Walker seems to be saying, may doom the world at large, but the little ones keep life worth living.”--Minnesota Herald Tribune
 
“[An] elegiac, moving first novel.”--Newsday
 
“Arresting… This book cuts bone-deep.” --Austin Chronicle 
 
“Evocative and poetic...I loved this book from the first page.”--Huntington News
 
“Walker’s tone can be properly [Harper] Lee-esque; both Julia and Scout grapple with the standard childhood difficulties as their societies crumble around them. But life prevails, and the stunning Miracles subtly conveys that adapting.”--Time Out New York

“[A] gripping debut . . . Thompson’s Julia is the perfect narrator. . . . While the apocalypse looms large—has in fact already arrived—the narrative remains fiercely grounded in the surreal and horrifying day-to-day and the personal decisions that persist even though no one knows what to do. A triumph of vision, language, and terrifying momentum, the story also feels eerily plausible, as if the problems we’ve been worrying about all along pale in comparison to what might actually bring our end.”—Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“In Walker’s stunning debut, a young California girl coming of age in a dystopian near future confronts the inevitability of change on the most personal level as life on earth withers … She goes through the trials and joys of first love. She begins to see cracks in her parents’ marriage and must navigate the currents of loyalty and moral uncertainty. She faces sickness and death of loved ones. ... Julia’s life is shaped by what happens in the larger world, but it is the only life she knows, and Walker captures each moment, intimate and universal, with magical precision. Riveting, heartbreaking, profoundly moving.”—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

“What a remarkable and beautifully wrought novel. In its depiction of a world at once utterly like and unlike our own, The Age of Miracles is so convincingly unsettling that it just might make you stockpile emergency supplies of batteries and bottled water. It also—thank goodness—provides great solace with its wisdom, its compassion, and the elegance of its storytelling.”—Curtis Sittenfeld, author of Prep

“‘Miracles’ indeed. Karen Thompson Walker’s debut novel is a stunner from the first page—an end-of-the-world, coming-of-age tale of quiet majesty. I loved this novel and can’t wait to see what this remarkable writer will do next.”—Justin Cronin, author of The Passage

“Is the end near? In Karen Thompson Walker’s beautiful and frightening debut, sunsets are becoming rarities, “real-timers” live in daylight colonies while mainstream America continues to operate on the moribund system of “Clock Time,” and environmentalists rail against global dependence on crops that guzzle light. Against this apocalyptic backdrop, Walker sets the coming-of-age story of brave, bewildered Julia, who wonders at the “malleable rhythms” of the increasingly erratic adults around her. Like master fabulists Steven Millhauser and Kevin Brockmeier, Karen Thompson Walker takes a fantastic premise and makes it feel thrillingly real. In precise, poetic language, she floods the California suburbs with shadows and a doomsday glow, and in this altered light shows us amazing things about how one family responds to a stunningly imagined global crisis.”—Karen Russell, author of Swamplandia!

“This is what imagination is. In The Age of Miracles, the earth’s rotation slows, gravity alters, days are stretched out to fifty hours of sunlight. In the midst of this, a young girl falls in loves, sees things she shouldn't and suffers heartbreak of the most ordinary kind. Karen Thompson Walker has managed to combine fiction of the dystopian future with an incisive and powerful portrait of our personal present.”—Amy Bloom, author of Away
 
The Age of Miracles is pure magnificence. Deeply moving and beautifully executed, Karen Thompson Walker has written the perfect novel for the global-warming age.”—Nathan Englander, author of For the Relief of Unbearable Urges

“Reading The Age of Miracles is like gazing into a sky of constellations and being mesmerized by the the strange yet familiar sensation of infinity. Beautifully written, the novel lets the readers see the world within us and the world without with an unforgettable freshness.”—Yiyun Li, author of Gold Boy, Emerald Girl

The Age of Miracles spins its glowing magic through incredibly lucid and honest prose, giving equal care and dignity to the small spheres and the large. It is at once a love letter to the world as we know it and an elegy.”—Aimee Bender, author of The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake
 
“Gripping from first page to last, The Age of Miracles is itself a small, perfectly formed miracle: Written with the cadence and pitch of poetry, this gem of a novel is a wrenching and all-too-believable parable for our times, and one of the most original coming-of-age stories I have ever read. Karen Thompson Walker is the real deal.”—Dani Shapiro, author of Devotion

The Age of Miracles is harrowing and beautiful on the ways in which those catastrophes already hidden about us in plain sight, once ratcheted up just a bit, provide us with a glimpse of the end of our species’ run on earth: the uncanny distress of hundreds of beached whales, or the surreal unease of waves rolling across the rooftops of beachfront houses. And as it does it reminds us of all of the miracles of human regard that will have taken place before then: the way compassion will retain its resilience, and the way, for those of us in love, a string of afternoons will be as good as a year.”—Jim Shepard, author of Like You’d Understand, Anyway (National Book Award finalist)

Reader's Guide|Discussion Questions

About the Book

A Conversation Between Karen Russell and Karen Thompson Walker

Karen Russell, a  native of Miami, has been featured in The New Yorker’s  debut fiction  issue and on  The New Yorker’s  20 Under 40 list, and was chosen  as one of Granta’s Best Young American Novelists. In 2009,  she received the 5 Under 35 award from  the National Book Foundation. Three  of her short stories  have been selected for the Best American Short Stories volumes;  “Proving Up,” previously titled “The Hox River Window,” won the National Mag- azine Award for Fiction in 2012. Her story collection, St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves, was the winner  of the Bard Fiction Prize. Her first novel, Swamplandia!, was  a New York Times 10 Best Books  of the Year selection, and winner  of the New  York Public Library Young Lions Fiction Award. She is a graduate  of the Columbia MFA program  and a 2012 Guggenheim Fellow.

Karen Russell: Congratulations on The Age of Miracles and its incredible success, Karen! Like so many readers, I was blown  away by Julia’s story. I feel privileged  to have seen pieces of the book in utero,  way back in our  graduate workshop.  Could  you talk  just a little bit about the book’s evolution? What  tipped you off that this was a novel and not  a short  story?

Karen Thompson Walker:
The book started  as a short   story, and it was  a bit of an experiment. I’d never written  anything that broke the rules of reality in any way. I got the idea for the premise— the sudden slowing of the rotation of the earth—after reading that the rotation of the earth had been affected by the 2004  earthquake in Indonesia. I found that news really haunting,  and I immediately began  to imagine  what might  happen if we  ever  faced  a much larger  change. In the original short  story, the days got shorter  in- stead of longer,  and it was just a onetime   change—the   twenty- four-hour   day shrank  to twenty-three  hours  and then stabilized. But the  voice  and  Julia’s character were both pretty  similar to the way they  are in the novel. I set the story aside for a few years and started working  in book publishing.   Eventually,   when I looked back at the story,  I sensed that there might  be a larger narrative  to tell. The real breakthrough moment in terms of turning it into a novel came when I decided to change the slowing  from  a onetime catastrophe to an ongoing and worsening  one, becoming more extreme with each passing  day. That gave me a road to follow  as well as the level of momentum  I needed to tell a novel-length story.

KR:
The  first-person  narration  of The  Age of  Miracles is retrospective—the adult Julia is reinhabiting her eleven-year-old self, looking  back at the slowing  through  the tunnel  of memory. It’s the beginning of her young life;  it also appears to be the beginning of the end for all life on the planet. What  made you decide to foreground the story  of Julia’s coming   of age—to narrate the slowing from a child’s point of view? To focus in on the microcosm of her family, her Californian neighborhood?

KTW:
I love stories  about childhood, especially when the voice is retrospective. An adult  looking  back on childhood  is always   a story  about a lost  era; we can never be children  again. That simple fact gives  the voice an inherent   melancholy  and nostalgia  that seemed exactly right for a novel  about what might  be the  end of the world. As she narrates, Julia is charting the loss of two precious worlds: her childhood, but also life on earth as everyone once knew it.
Focusing on adolescence—a time when everything feels so immediate  and new—was   also  a way of making sure that this large- scale  story about global catastrophe would  feel  as personal  and intimate  as possible.

KR: According to Wittgenstein, “The aspects of things that are most important for us are hidden  because of their simplicity  and ordinariness, everydayness. One is unable to notice something— because it is always before one’s eyes.” In The Age of Miracles,  you use a planetwide  catastrophe to reveal the miraculous qualities of the  everyday. The slowing  forces both its cast of characters  and its readers to consider  the scope of what we take for granted, both when it comes to “the workings of the  universe” and the  equilibrium within our own families.  What  are some of the things that the characters in your novel are now able to “see,”  thanks to the slow- ing? What  is revealed as precious, miraculous,  to Julia? What  did you come to view as most miraculous/fantastic  about our everyday lives after writing the novel?

KTW:
Leave it to Wittgenstein (and you) to articulate so crisply and aptly something  I’ve  only  gradually come to realize. For me, the most memorable fiction is the kind that feels simultaneously familiar and new. I think that’s the trick of writing fiction and the pleasure of reading it: that mix of recognition and surprise. Ordinary life can be hard to write  about in a way that  feels  interesting, but when I hit upon the idea of the slowing—the sudden and disastrous   change in the rotation of the earth—I realized  that it would allow me to write about the meaning of our daily lives in a
way that might feel fresh. The looming  catastrophe had a way of removing the everydayness from  everyday life, of making the ordi- nary seem suddenly extraordinary. As I wrote the book, I felt more and more thankful  for uneventful  days, for the reliable rising and setting of the sun, and  for the thousands of coincidences  that allow human life to survive on earth at all.

KR:
I thought  the pacing of your novel was superb,  and I really admired  the way you generate suspense  within  the slowing by taking  advantage of the retrospective narration to hint at some imminent  development—for  example, right  before  a major plot turn, Julia recalls, “It was just a moment  later that  I lost her. It was later estimated that we were traveling  at forty-five miles per hour.” Was pacing something  that came naturally  to you, or part of the revision process? How  much of the story  did you know in advance? Were there any out-of-the-blue  developments that shocked you, things  you never guessed would happen when you started writing your novel?

KTW: I think pacing is one of the  hardest aspects of story- telling. It can be difficult for a writer  to evaluate the pacing of his or her own novel, but readers are great at it. Readers always notice when  a story  is moving too fast or too slow.  For me, the  key to learning to write fiction was learning  to read my own work as if I were reading someone else’s. That process, which I try to do at the same time  as I write, is a major  act of the imagination,  one that’s just as important  to my writing  as the imagination it takes to create the characters and the story. When I was writing  The Age of Miracles, I had a general idea of the arc of the novel, but I didn’t always know what would happen in the next  chapter. I like to feel  a little suspense  as I write, and I hope that carries over to the reader.

KR: Throughout the book, I was dazzled by the quality  of your details, how fully you imagine  the  consequences of the slowing, both  large and small—earthworms sizzle on patios and birds  fall from the sky, the “flesh of avocados turns black from  the frosts,” en- vironmentalists make ominous  pronouncements about the world’s dependence on  crops  “guzzling  up light.”  Flannery  O’Connor writes,   “Fiction is an art that calls for the strictest  attention to the real—whether  the writer is writing a  naturalistic story or a fantasy. . . . I would even go so far as to say that the person writing a fantasy has to be even more strictly attentive to the concrete detail than someone writing in a naturalistic vein—because the greater the story’s  strain on credulity,  the more convincing the proper- ties in it have to be.” Can you talk  a little bit about the work you did to make your premise feel so frighteningly   real?  What kind of research did you do? What  was the most surprising  thing you learned during  your research? Which of the  many changes that you imagined here did you find most personally haunting or upset- ting? (I am still thinking about  Seth’s sunburn,  and the children petting  the dessicated whales, for example.)

KTW: What a  great quote from  Flannery  O’Connor. I completely  agree with   her.  My goal was to treat this story  as if I were writing realism. I wanted the premise  to feel as convincing as the characters, so that the reader would feel true concern for the people in the book. In order to make the slowing feel as real as possible,  I took  a lot of details  from  daily newspaper stories:  strange weather, extinctions of species, studies  on human  circadian rhythms  and even the unfolding  of the global financial crisis. I also showed the book to an astrophysicist,  which was a nerve-racking   but crucial experience. Fortunately, I was relieved by how many of my details he found  plausible,  especially once you take the imaginative  leap that something   completely  unexpected has  happened. He also helped me fix a few  things. For me, the most haunting consequence in the book is probably the simplest, the one that inspired  me to write this story in the first place: just the idea of not knowing  when or if the sun will ever rise again.

KR:
One of the fascinating developments in the slowing  occurs when world governments  ask their  people to “carry on  exactly as we always  had.” Most people live  on “Clock Time”—persisting on the twenty-four-hour  clock, even as the earth’s rotation continues to slow  and the spacing between daylight  and darkness grows more erratic. Is their commitment to “normalcy” courageous or foolhardy? More generally, in an irreversible movement like the slowing, is nostalgia   a life-preserver or a  trap? Sometimes  Julia’s parents’  insistence  on maintaining  an ordinary  home life in the face of the slowing seems like an act of supreme  courage; at other times, their nostalgia for their lives pre-slowing reads as stubborn, delusional. It puts Julia at risk. I love  the  scene  where  Julia’s father lingers in the house of his former girlfriend on the beach—a literal and figurative relic, which is filling with seawater.

KTW:
The slowing  introduces  a sudden chaos into  the lives  of everyone on earth. In a world  in which the twenty-four-hour  clock no longer  corresponds to darkness  and daylight,   and no  one can predict when the sun will rise  and set, it seemed natural  to me that many people would  respond with a strong  desire  for the familiar and the orderly. Thus, most of society clings to the stability  of the twenty-four-hour clock, even though  it means that children sometimes  go to school in the dark and people must  try to sleep during daylight. Whether  that impulse is courageous or foolhardy  is hard to say—perhaps it’s both things  at once. There’s no good solution to the situation  these  people are facing.  All they  can do is try to carry on in the  face of the unknown. In that sense, their lives are not so different from ours; it’s just that unlike most of us, they can no longer ignore the basic uncertainty inherent in every human life.

KR: You know, like Julia, I too  had a crush on that Seth Moreno! The slowing is one heck of a dramatic backdrop for first love—how do you think the hothouse  bloom of their  romance is affected by this crisis?  How did you see the slowing altering the ordinary course of their  development more generally? To me, Julia and Seth often felt simultaneously regressive, childlike, and preternaturally adult. They  sneak out at night, trespass, have old-fashioned summer fun, but of course they will never have an old-fashioned summer again, now that the slowing has changed everything.

KTW:
I think the relationship between Julia  and Seth is the emotional  core of the book. I didn’t always know that their  young love story would play such a large role  in the novel, but I loved writ- ing about it. When we’re going through  adolescence, our  romantic interests feel incredibly pressing and meaningful, but once we grow up, I think we tend  to be kind  of dismissive of those early bonds and crushes.  Letting this love story  unfold  against the backdrop of an apocalyptic   scenario   was  a way of injecting  new meaning into the small-scale  highs  and lows of adolescent relationships. Seth and Julia do the things  that many of us did as children  or teenagers— they tell  one another secrets, hold hands, and share a first kiss—but in their world,  theirs  may be the last generation to experience all those familiar  rites of passage.  I hope that  fact makes their story feel as urgent as our own love stories  felt when we were their  age.


KR:
There are many mysteries in The Age of Miracles, from the cause  of the slowing  itself, to people’s  inexplicable personality changes and erratic  behavior,  to the disappearance of Julia’s grand- father. Some of these mysteries  are solved by the novel’s end,  but many remain. I thought  that  the scientists’ bafflement  made the crisis feel that much more credible. What  guided you as you decided which mysteries to resolve and which questions  to leave un- answered?

KTW:
The book is very much about uncertainty,  so I knew I didn’t want an ending that would suddenly answer every question and  resolve  every conflict.   The slowing baffles scientists—they cannot explain it and they  cannot change it. Similarly,  Julia will never completely  understand  the people around her. As a species, I think we tend to think we know more than we do, but there’s still so much—about the universe as well as one another—that we can- not yet comprehend. I think there’s a certain  beauty  in that mystery, but it’s also unnerving, and I hoped that The Age of Miracles, particularly  the ending, would capture both of those qualities.

Discussion Guides

1. As readers, why do you think we’re  drawn to stories  about the  end of the world? What special pleasures  do these  kinds of narratives offer? And how do you think this element works in The Age of Miracles?

2. Julia is an only child.  How  does this fact affect who she is and how  she  sees the world? How would her experience  of the slowing  be different  if she  had  a sibling? How would her experience of middle  school be different?

3. How much do you think  the slowing alters Julia’s experience of adolescence? If the slowing  had never happened, in what ways would her childhood  have been different?  In what ways would  it have been the same?

4.  Julia’s parents’ marriage becomes increasingly  strained  over the course of the book. Why do you think they stay together? Do you think it’s the right choice? How much do you think Julia’s mother does or does not know about Sylvia?

5. Julia’s father tells several crucial lies. Discuss  these lies and consider which ones, if any, are justified and which  ones are not.  Is lying  ever the right  thing  to do? If so, when?

6. How  would  the  book change if it were  narrated by Julia’s mother? What if it were narrated by Julia’s father? Or her grandfather?

7. Why do you think Julia is so drawn to Seth? Why do you think he is drawn to her?

8. Did you identify more with the clock-timers or with the real-timers? Which would you be and why?

9. The slowing affects the whole planet, but the book is set in southern  California.  How  does the setting  affect the book? How important is it that  the story  takes place in California?

10. How  do you feel about the way the book ends? What  do you think lies ahead for  Julia,  for  her  parents,  and for  the world?

11. The slowing throws the natural world into disarray. Plants and animals   die  and there  are changes in the  weather. Did this book make you think about the threats that face our own natural world? Do you think the book has something  to say about climate change?

12. If you woke up tomorrow  to the news that the rotation  of the earth had significantly  slowed, how do you think you would respond? What is the first thing  you would do?


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