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Posts Tagged ‘Karen Thompson Walker’

Ever dreamed of hibernating through winter? In the reality-adjacent Wales of Jasper Fforde’s  wild and crazy new novel Early Riser (Viking Penguin, digital galley), winter is so horrible that the majority of the population literally hibernates in huge, high-rise Dormitoria. Many of them are under the influence of Morphenox, a trademarked drug that suppresses calorie-robbing dreams. Heaven forbid if your stored fat doesn’t last till spring; you could be one of those poor souls who Died in Sleep. By comparison, the risk that Morphonox could turn you into a cannibalistic nightwalker is so slight that most pony up the bucks for the drug or have a job that guarantees it. Which is why orphan Charlie Worthing enlists as a novice Winter Counsel, guarding the sleeping masses through SlumberDown from such perils as maurauding nightwalkers and the fearsome Winterfolk. Adventure awaits, as do subplots and satire aplenty, when Charlie goes searching for the source of a viral dream featuring a blue Buick and grasping hands.

Fforde, best-known for his fantastic Thursday Next series that began with The Eyre Affair, is as clever and inventive as ever with this stand-alone. He pushes the boundaries of absurdity at times, and the plot threatens to collapse under the weight of the world-building. But the wordplay is so much fun, as are the many deft and delightful details and pop culture references. Only Fforde — or maybe Monty Python — could envision a creature whose ominous presence is announced by the faint strains of Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals. That’s entertainment.

Dystopia is disquieting in Karen Thompson Walker’s The Dreamers (Random House, digital galley), written in a lovely minor key. In her 2012 first novel The Age of Miracles, the end of the world as we know it was triggered by the slowing of the Earth’s rotation and narrated by a California sixth-grader. The story was elegiac and intimate as the ordinary rites of adolescence continued in the face of global catastrophe. “We kids were not as afraid as we should have been. We were too young to be scared, too immersed in our own small worlds, too convinced of our own permanence.”

The focus is wider, the voice omniscient in The Dreamers as people in a small California town fall victim to a mysterious sleeping sickness. The first victims are college students who fall asleep after a night of partying and slide into comas. But then scattered townspeople and the health workers caring for them sicken, too, and the viral epidemic spreads so that within just a matter of weeks the area is quarantined. Walker moves in out of the dreams and lives of the infected and the still-well. Especially poignant are the two young girls left alone when their prepper father falls ill. Their basement is full of canned goods, and they try to maintain a semblance of normalcy, taking in stray pets. Next door is a young couple who monitor their newborn for symptoms after she is inadvertently exposed. Across town, two students come together as volunteers nursing dreamers in the college library.

Walker’s tone is measured, almost hypnotic throughout. The result is a story as mysterious as a dream, as disturbing as a nightmare.

 

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Wildfires out West and floods in Florida. Just more weird weather, or — dum, dum, dum — the end of the world as we know it? In this summer’s most buzzed-about book, The Age of Miracles, first-time novelist Karen Thompson Walker posits an end-days scenario triggered by the slowing of the Earth’s rotation.

“We didn’t notice right away. We couldn’t feel it,” begins narrator Julia, a Southern California sixth-grader. She recalls that they were distracted by weather and war, worrying about the wrong things: “the hole in the ozone layer, the melting of the ice caps, West Nile and swine flu and killer bees. But I guess it never is what you worry over that comes to pass in the end. The real catastrophes are always different  — unimagined, unprepared for, unknown.”

As far as global castastrophes goes, “the slowing” is a pretty good one. Birds plummet from the sky as gravity shifts. Whales beach themselves. Long days stretch into  white nights. Some plants begin to die, some people sicken, including Julia’s mother, who like many others, begins hoarding canned goods and candles. A period of panic sets in before the government decides society should continue 24/7, even if it means school begins in the middle of the night. The “real-timers” rebel, preferring to stick to circadian rhythms, although they are ostracized by their neighbors. A good many pick up and light out for the territory to establish their own communities.

Apocalypse nigh, of course, is a speculative fiction staple, and dystopia the favorite setting of current YA novels. But The Age of Miracles lacks the vitality of many of those books, such as Veronica Roth’s Divergent. Walker’s tone is elegiac, her writing elegant as Julia details both the ordinary travails of early adolescence — best friends, first loves, sleepovers, soccer games — and such extraordinary events as raging solar storms and rips in the magnetic field. It’s this counterpoint that makes for an intimate, involving narrative.

“We kids were not as afraid as we should have been,” Julia confesses. “We were too young to be scared, too immersed  in our own small worlds, too convinced of our own permanence.”

How much you enjoy The Age of Miracles will depend on how much you care about Julia’s small world of family and friends — her weary mother, her secretive father, her feisty grandfather, her classmate Seth — and all the little dramas of life going on.

Open Book: I read a digital galley via NetGalley of Karen Thompson Walker’s The Age of Miracles (Random House). Soon it will disappear from my Nook, but not from my memory.

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