Tag Archives: the age of miracles

Six Furlough Fiction Reads

I live in DC, and I have a lot of friends who are furloughed thanks to the federal budget impasse. I am sure that some of you guys are getting restless at home with all the unexpected downtime. (Once your closets are cleaned out and you’ve gone to the gym, what are you supposed to do with your time?) While I hope for everyone’s sake that the furlough ends soon, in case it extends another week or two, here are some books to consider picking up while you’re at home. They aren’t terribly long, so you should be able to finish one or two before you go back to work, and they are engrossing enough to keep your mind off the annoying situation on Capitol Hill keeping you from work.

Six Furlough Fiction Reads


1. The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri. This one just came out, and I just started it, so I don’t have a review yet to link to. But Lahiri’s other books are wonderful (The Namesake is my favorite), and this one is also supposed to be great. Check out Swapna’s review at S.Krishna’s Books. She is an East Asian fiction expert, so she knows of which she blogs. If you haven’t read The Namesake yet, that’s another great furlough read. You could even make a whole day of it and rent the movie afterwards – here’s my take on Book vs. Movie: The Namesake.


2. Labor Day by Joyce Maynard. This isn’t Maynard’s latest novel, but I really liked it and think it’d make an excellent furlough read. It’s about a long weekend, told through the eyes of a 13 year-old boy whose mother has taken in a fugitive. Labor Day is sad and haunting but memorable. Bonus: it’s being made into a movie with Kate Winslet due out at the end of the year. Hopefully it will NOT be a furlough movie.


3. Girl in Translation by Jean Kwok. I loved this book (as have millions of others). If you missed it in 2010, it’s the story of an immigrant girl from Hong Kong who toils away in a New York City sweatshop while trying to learn English and ultimately get accepted to college.  Girl in Translation is heartbreaking and eye-opening, and would be a good book to get your mind off your own problems.


4. The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker. I read this one last fall, and it has really stayed with me. It’s about a dystopian world in which the earth’s rotation has slowed down. The Age of Miracles is one of the most creative books I’ve ever read. Walker’s depiction of the gradual changes brought on by the slowdown, and the ways in which people reacted to those changes, was both realistic and totally original. It’s a stressful read, but again, it will take your mind off the furlough.


5. Anything by Jennifer Haigh, but in particular The Condition and Baker Towers. I love everything this woman has ever written, but if you’re just starting out with Haigh, try those first. They are deeply involving and moving novels that suck you in with measured prose and perfectly paced storytelling.


6.  Finally, you can read a debut novel BY a furloughed government worker, Michael Landweber. We is his highly creative book about a fortysomething who finds that he can go back in time into the mind of his seven-year self, thus presenting the opportunity to prevent a terrible event that befell his sister. It’s a quick, exhilarating read by a promising new writer.

So while you’re passing the hours at home trying not to check your Blackberry (yes, Blackberry – this is the government), give these books a try. And then let me know what you thought.

 

THE AGE OF MIRACLES by Karen Thompson Walker

I finished another book! Shocking. This is my lowest book month in recent memory – 3 books completed in September. Sigh. I’m telling you – it’s not the baby, it’s the job.


And now to the book – The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker. First off, I have to say that I rarely read sci-fi, dystopia, speculative fiction or YA. I have read a number of reviews of The Age of Miracles that criticize it for not holding its own in one or more of those categories. I can’t really address that criticism, because I am not familiar enough with those genres to judge. But I will say that I loved this book.

The Age of Miracles, which has gotten a great deal of attention this summer, is about the year when the earth’s rotation slowed down. The story is told through the eyes of an 11-year old girl named Julia who lives with her parents in southern California. With the slowdown comes a legion of problems for humans living on earth. The days start to get longer, throwing off the natural rhythm of life and confusing the calendar. Then birds start dying, unable to fly due to changes in the gravitational pull of the earth. Fruit can no longer be grown due to the changing pattern of daylight hours; whales are beached all along the coasts; and so on. Julia’s life is affected by these changes, just as everyone’s are, but at the same time she’s also a middle school girl trying to navigate the treacherous waters of fickle friendships, boys, and parents with their own problems.

The Age of Miracles (so named because adolescence is often called the age of miracles) is one of the most creative books I’ve ever read. Walker’s depiction of the gradual changes brought on by the slowdown, and the ways in which people reacted to those changes, was both realistic and totally original. There’s no revolution or apocalypse; there’s just ordinary people either trying to deny what is happening, or overreacting, or turning on each other because they don’t agree with how to adapt to the changing reality of a new way of life.  Julia is a matter-of-fact, minimalistic narrator whose small, personal life is just as important to her as the cosmic changes taking place around her.

I found The Age of Miracles quite stressful to read, as I suppose many dystopian novels must be. Yet Walker’s artful prose and the poignancy of her story kept me going despite the difficulty of the subject matter. My one complaint is that there was too much needless foreshadowing; she often ended chapters with sentences like “We had no idea how bad it would get later” or “It was the last time I would ever be in her house” or “We would later learn that…”. I find that kind of foreshadowing a bit cheap and patronizing. If a story is strong (as this one was), then I don’t need that type of hinting at what’s to come in order to keep me interested. I’d rather be surprised. This is a minor complaint, but it happened enough throughout the book that it’s worth mentioning. One other quibble: there were few mentions of how countries other than the U.S. were faring on the new earth. I’d like to have learned more about what was happening in other parts of the world.

When I first read about The Age of Miracles, I wasn’t interested in reading it. But I ended up getting it from the library and decided to take a chance on it, and boy am I glad I did. What a creative, thoughtful novel. I highly recommend it.