The Age Of Miracles Summary

Karen Thompson Walker

The Age Of Miracles

  • Plot overview and analysis written by an experienced literary critic.
  • Full study guide for this title currently under development.
  • To be notified when we launch a full study guide, please contact us.

The Age Of Miracles Summary

SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides that feature detailed chapter summaries and analysis of major themes, characters, quotes, and essay topics.  This one-page guide includes a plot summary and brief analysis of The Age Of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker.

American writer Karen Thompson Walker’s 2012 debut novel The Age of Miracles has as its main idea a scientific concept called “slowing.” This fictional occurrence is a day when the Earth takes longer than usual to complete its rotation. Walker was inspired by the tsunami in Indonesia in 2004, which in reality did slow the rotation of the earth, though by less than a second.

It is a few months prior to the birthday of eleven-year-old Julie, the narrative voice, when the world experiences slowing for an unknown reason. Scientists eventually confirm that this inexplicable phenomenon is taking place,by which point a day has increased to twenty-four hours and fifty-six minutes. Life on earth as it had been is now altered and the length of days continues to increase. As is to be expected with any radical and unexplained change, the reactions of people vary greatly. Some people attempt to simply adapt to it, while others do not accept such a phenomenon unchallenged. Julia’s grandfather believes it to be a hoax perpetrated by the government. Others, like the family of Hanna, Julia’s closest friend, see it as the action of an angry God.

Weeks go by and amid confusion and fear among citizens, the government of the United States takes action. The government declares that it has decided that the way to cope with the situation is to follow what is referred to as “clock time.” This means that the world will go about its normal activities as if nothing has changed. It will follow the traditional twenty-four hour clock with no regard to whether it is day or night on the outside.Not everyone accepts this proposition and some continue to live according to the rising and setting of the sun. The people who do this are referred to as “real timers” and become the target of discrimination.

In addition to the logistical implications of the longer days and life as it was no longer being in sync with the rhythms of the sun, there are psychological and physical effects on people. Some people,including Julia’s mother, come down with an ailment called “the syndrome,” which affects different people in different ways. It affects gravity and brings with it symptoms including dizziness, lightheadedness, and pains that cannot be explained. All of this, coupled with the “normal” difficulties of growing up, makes Julia, who is an only child, a multi-faceted protagonist. Her parents, Helen and Joel, argue frequently. Her best friend, after returning from having moved, is no longer interested in the friendship. Julia has a crush on Seth, who one day protects her from a bully. Seth is dealing with his own problems, as his mother is losing a battle with cancer. His feelings toward Julia are unclear to her.

Time passes and the ever-increasing length of day reaches thirty-two hours. Julia becomes aware of the changes in her friends but cannot figure out whether it is adolescence or “slowing”-related.  They all seem to be going in different directions to hers. Meanwhile, Julia’s piano teacher, Sylvia, decides to join the real timers,so Julia’s mother no longer allows her to take lessons from Sylvia. Real timers are shunned by the rest of society and often leave and form their own colonies. Around Christmastime, Julia discovers that Sylvia is having an affair with her father;Julia is torn as far as what to tell her mother, but senses that she is already aware of the situation.

By the time the days reach forty-eight hours in length, Julia’s mother has the syndrome. This is discovered when she strikes and kills a person when she passes out at the wheel while driving.  In an attempt to lift her spirits a bit, Joel tells Helen that the person was only hurt, but not killed.  Julia is now approaching the end of sixth grade and her relationship with Seth is getting stronger.  One night they go outside even though there is a solar storm and a dangerous sun. They see Joel coming out of Sylvia’s house with suitcases and confront him about it. What was going to happen is not made clear, but Joel returns home and seems to resolve things with Helen. The following day, Seth and Julia find themselves suffering from serious sunburns.

Seth is affected by the syndrome when the days reach seventy-two hours long. He becomes immobile and is taken to Mexico by his father, where it is thought that the syndrome and its effects are not as severe. Although Julia writes to him for a number of weeks, she never hears from him again. By the ending of the book, set years in the future, the days are weeks long and Julia is twenty-three years old. She wants to go to medical school if there are any that still exist.  Life on earth is expected to end within a few years.

The Age of Miracles was an exceptionally successful debut, both from literary and financial perspectives, for Karen Thompson Walker. The New York Times noted, “Her novel will remind many readers of Alice Sebold’s 2002 novel,The Lovely Bones: It, too, is told from the perspective of an adolescent girl — or, in this case, a grown woman recreating those pivotal years in her life; it, too, creates an elegiac portrait of an ordinary world, forever rocked by terrible events.”