Monday, November 26, 2012
The Age of Miracles ~ Karen Thompson Walker
Such is the plot of The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker, a young-adult novel that isn't quite post-apocoalyptic, as I assumed it was going in to it, nor is it dystopia, as it's often described. Society hasn't dissolved due to the crisis, nor has the government taken complete control. It's more of a psychological unraveling as humans attempt to cling to the world they understand, even as it collapses around them.
It was...disappointing. I've been anticipating reading this book since it was released and while it was interesting and gave some food for thought (yeah, I think I'd be a real-timer, or at least try to be until the days got too long for my circadian rhythm to keep up), especially since it was written as though the reader has gone through all this as well, in the end it felt contrived. I get this awareness when reading certain books - and I'm sure I'm not alone in this - of being aware of what the author is doing (or attempting to do). This isn't the result of conscious literary analysis and occurs despite my best efforts to just immerse myself in the book. Suddenly I'll realize, oh, this is supposed to make me sad or oh, this is foreshadowing...I guess we'll come back to it later. I suspect that this happens when the writing doesn't flow naturally, when the author is intentionally trying to make something happen - it's forced.
I didn't realize it at first - when the astronauts returning to Earth due to food deprivation dissolve somewhere over the Pacific, I was hit with a powerful, unidentifiable sense of remorse, despite not being old enough to remember any major space exploration disasters. But later, when we heard about the four cots and four sleeping bags in the fall-out shelter, and the game pieces scattered across the floor, and I initially had the same punch-to-the-gut reaction, I realized that Walker was intentionally drawing these responses from me (and that the shelter had been clumsily foreshadowed). And then the last line of the book, which was also clumsily foreshadowed, was not only predictable but attempted to far too tidily sum up the book. It's too tight, too intentional - life is messier than that, and good literature is too.
I guess this is my main complaint, though the caricatured characters were also difficult to deal with, as well as the fact that the last hour (of the audiobook, about the last 1/8 of the novel) was unrelentingly and intentionally depressing (the cutesy last line doesn't make up for it). The balance is off and all hope is lost. Oh, and the character's constant refrain of "I still remember..." was just grating. Yes, we know you're writing this after the fact, so we assume that the details you choose to include are things you remember. No need to keep reminding us.
It wasn't all negative. The pain of early adolescence was described well, and I could identify well with Julia, who is probably the only well-developed character in the book (probably has something to do with her being the narrator and all). And the premise was really great and had a lot of possibility - I just wish that it had unfolded more naturally, without relying on tearjerker moments to get its point across.
A note on the audiobook: the narrator was good - she didn't go overboard on the voices and had the right inflections and whatnot. Her voice is a little breathy, but doesn't have that annoying, ultra-feminine childishness that some readers do, which definitely made the experience more enjoyable.