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1 Burnside Literature- A to Z

The Age of Miracles

by

The Age of Miracles Cover

 

 

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?

Excerpted from The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker Copyright © 2012 by Karen Thompson Walker. Excerpted by permission of Random House, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

What Our Readers Are Saying

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Average customer rating based on 31 comments:

smark12, January 30, 2013 (view all comments by smark12)
This was the first book in a very long time in which I was completely and totally immersed. So much so that I needed to remind myself that I was reading fiction, and that the events in the novel weren't actually happening in present, everyday life. I really loved that it was from the perspective of a young woman looking back on her adolescence; the author created such a disquieting account of nostalgia. The sense of longing is amplified by her uncertain future. There is a great parallel to the isolation felt as a pre-teen/teen to the desolation created through 'the happening'. A very thought-provoking novel, and one I will definitely be recommending to others.
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Leonard Sommer, January 30, 2013 (view all comments by Leonard Sommer)
Growing up as teenage girl in suburban LA, and, oh yeah, the world is coming to a slowing end. The book makes you think about the large historical forces and their impact on our tiny lives and development. Well written and even lyrically written.
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Megan Morrow, January 30, 2013 (view all comments by Megan Morrow)
This beautiful, haunting, affirming book stuck with me long after I turned the last page, and I recommended it to everyone who was looking for their next book to read. I was also inspired by hearing Karen Thompson Walker speak about her process during a visit to a Minneapolis bookstore -- so much of her writing was done before work through years of diligence and dedication. I really loved a lot of books last year, but this one was tops.
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Product Details

ISBN:
9780812992977
Subtitle:
A Novel
Author:
Thompson Walker, Karen
Author:
Karen Thompson Walker
Author:
Karen Thompson Walker
Publisher:
Random House
Subject:
Literary
Subject:
Literature-A to Z
Copyright:
Publication Date:
20120626
Binding:
Hardback
Language:
English
Pages:
288
Dimensions:
9.54 x 6.57 x 1.08 in 1.22 lb

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The Age of Miracles Used Hardcover
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Product details 288 pages Random House - English 9780812992977 Reviews:
"Staff Pick" by ,

As if facing the everyday insecurities and turmoil of adolescence isn't enough, 11-year-old Julia lives within the reality of a post-apocalyptic situation as the earth's rotation begins slowing by measurable degrees each day. Relationships, personal and official, fracture, torn apart by the uncertainty of living in a world where time — night, day, schedules — no longer holds much meaning. In a tale that is as graceful as it is intelligent, as realistic as it is fantastic, this haunting debut creates a snapshot of a world changing beyond recognition. What effect will it have on you?

"Publishers Weekly Review" by , "In this gripping debut, 11-year-old Julia wakes one day to the news that the earth's rotation has started slowing. The immediate effects — no one at soccer practice; relentless broadcasts of the same bewildered scientists — soon feel banal compared to what unfolds. 'The slowing' is growing slower still, and soon both day and night are more than twice as long as they once were. When governments decide to stick to the 24-hour schedule (ignoring circadian rhythms), a subversive movement erupts, 'real-timers' who disregard the clock and appear to be weathering the slowing better than clock-timers — at first. Thompson's Julia is the perfect narrator. On the brink of adolescence, she's as concerned with buying her first bra as with the birds falling out of the sky. She wants to be popular as badly as she wants her world to remain familiar. 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. Agent: Eric Simonoff, WME Entertainment." Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
"Review" by , "[Walker's] voice turns what might have been just a clever mash-up of disaster epic with sensitive young-adult, coming-of-age story into a genuinely moving tale that mixes the real and surreal, the ordinary and the extraordinary with impressive fluency and flair."
"Review" by , "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."
"Review" by , "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."
"Review" by , "Walker captures each moment, intimate and universal, with magical precision. Riveting, heartbreaking, profoundly moving."
"Review" by , "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."
"Review" by , "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."
"Review" by , "'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."
"Review" by , "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."
"Review" by , "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."
"Review" by , "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."
"Review" by , "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."
"Review" by , "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."
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