Saturday, December 15, 2012

The Age of Miracles

Between the fiscal cliff and the Mayan Apocalypse, we are hearing a lot about "end of the world"scenarios these days.  But in most cases, the emphasis seems to be on the dramatic event itself, leaving unanswered the question, "OK, what then?"  What might/would/could/should happen after these events.  What if, by some miracle or fluke or twist of fate, some people actually survive?  What kind of life (or existence) might they expect?  Would I be able to make it under such circumstances?  Would I even want to try?

Perhaps these questions are not new to you.  Maybe you too have found yourself discussing these kinds of topics around the table after Thanksgiving [family gatherings can be a kind of mini-apocalypse, after all, so this may be fitting].  If you, like me, have been subjected to detailed descriptions of your relatives' aspirations to post-apocalyptic heroics, and found them more than a little hubris, you will find Karen Thompson Walker's The Age of Miracles a refreshing alternative.

Walker's novel does feature a natural disaster, and some of her main characters are at times heroic.  But it is not really about the disaster, nor is it an epic of human triumph.  Quite the opposite, really.  The natural disaster, an in-explicable slowing of the earth's rotation, is never explained.  And all of humanity's best efforts to try to overcome the effects of "the slowing" prove to be failures.

Instead, Walker's book is a story of "after" - of the lingering, gradual effects of the natural disaster, and the efforts of ordinary people to adapt to these effects, or to carry on with "normal" life despite them.  And in their attempts, and their failures, we find a reflection of ourselves that is believable enough to make this story disturbing.  And, it might give you something to talk about at family dinners over the holidays.

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