Book Review: The Age of Miracles

I rarely read fiction books and I’m not quite sure why. It might be because I feel that I have a lot to learn and that I shouldn’t spend time reading fiction books when there are still so many popular and educational non-fiction books that I have yet to read. It might be because I feel that fiction books are more for entertainment purposes, akin to watching a movie, while non-fiction books help you learn and grow. When I pick up the right fiction book, however, I realize how wrong the above statement is. The right fiction book can entrance, educate, inspire, and entertain all at once unlike anything else because the characters live both on the pages of the book and in your imagination. This is what I found in Karan Thompson Walker’s debut novel The Age of Miracles.
Title: The Age of Miracles
Author: Karen Thompson Walker
Publication Date: 2012
Pages: 272
Genre: Fiction
I came across this novel when I was browsing Apple’s iBooks Store on my iPad and saw The Age of Miracles as a new and recommended book in the summer of 2012. I quickly read the book’s summary and was intrigued by the scientific aspects of the story and decided to read the book despite it being about a pre-teen girl, which not my usual choice of protagonist in the fiction books I read.

The book follows a California girl named Julia, who is 11 years old when it is discovered that the Earth has begun taking longer to complete a rotation. The phenomenon obviously comes as a shock to humanity and is not able to be explained despite efforts by governments and scientists to do so. As the days become longer and the nights longer also, the government of the United States announces the adoption of something called “clock time,” where a day will still be 24 hours just like before the “slowing” even though the days get longer and longer. In “clock time” it might be dark outside at 12 p.m.

When I started reading the book I already knew that the world’s rotation in Julia’s universe would slow down from the book’s summary and I was very interested to see how this enormous change would affect people’s lives. The book mainly focuses on the life of our protagonist Julia, who lives in what seems to be an upper-middle class family in a relatively pleasant California suburb. After the government announces “clock time,” two groups of people emerge: those who are on clock time and the “real timers,” who live their lives by the sun and ignore the artificial “clock time.”

Julia’s life changes because of the Earth’s changing spin, but I believe her life also changes because she is a young girl and at that age life can be difficult and quickly changing even if you have all you needs met and even if the Earth’s rotation is the same. Julia loses friends, makes new ones, has turmoil and difficulty within her family, and finds what seems to be young love. In thinking about her existence and about everything that has been happening to her, Julia says the following quote which I am intrigued by:

“There is such a thing as coincidence, the alignment of two or more things with no causal connection. Maybe everything that happened with me and my family had nothing to do with the slowing…”

– Julia in The Age of Miracles

What intrigued me about this quote is that it reminds me a lot about economics. I know that Walker probably wasn’t thinking about economics at all when writing the above quote or her novel in general, but I was still excited to be able to relate it to economics. The quote is about coincidences and causal connections. Economists strive to understand how the world works and in doing so they attempt to find causal connections between events, but this is incredibly difficult in general and especially difficult in a field such as economics, where experimentation in the traditional sense is not possible. Sometimes economists foolishly believe there to be a causal connection when in fact there is a mere correlation and no evidence of a causal connection. It is in fact very difficult to determine causal connections. Does A cause B? Or does C cause both A and B? That’s one simple example. The field of econometrics, which is like a combination of economics and calculus-based statistics deals with these type of questions. Part of what econometricians do is gather data and run what is called a regression analysis to determine correlations. People also mistake correlations with causal connections in their daily lives all the time. It can be useful to recognize the difference between correlation and causation so that one can live a life that is more informed.

I was slightly disappointed that the novel only briefly discussed how the Earth’s slowing rotation affected other people in other cities, other states, other countries, and people in other socio-economic positions. I was interested, in starting the book, to see the macro changes that would occur. Although the book does discuss this somewhat, I wish it did so a little more.

Additionally I would like to point out that I’ve read online that some of the scientific facts or conclusions in the book are not totally accurate. I think it might be important to note this possibility, but I don’t think it’s a major flaw of the book because the book is about how the life of a girl and the people she knows changes by the Earth’s slowing rotation. Even if the facts are a little bit off, the emotions and the psychological effects will likely not change much if at all. The physical effects described might be slightly different, but I doubt they would be so different that they would materially change the book’s main thrust.

A broad range of people will enjoy this book, both for its simple and high quality writing and for its unique plot.

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