Monday, July 30, 2012

Criticisms on 'The Age of Miracles' Are Discouraging

When this book first came out I was ecstatic to read it.  The premise of the book just sounded fantastic. "Luminous, haunting, unforgettable, The Age of Miracles is a stunning fiction debut by a superb new writer, a story about coming of age during extraordinary times, about people going on with their lives in an era of profound uncertainty." (GoodReads)  It did sound oddly familiar.  Perhaps because our era right now is full of uncertainty in more ways than one, or maybe it was the statement about 'coming of age during extraordinary times' that gave it all away to me.  I even recommended it to my Global Book Selections GoodReads book club for North America.  I felt as though I would be taken on a journey with this book, captured and enveloped by the plot.  In any case, this book is turning out to disappoint more than satisfy first impressions.

I have been reading this book for the past couple of weeks and I am very close to finishing it.  I realized I had mixed conclusions about this novel, so I decided to see what other people were saying about it in their reviews.  What I found made me feel even more ambiguous about this book.  I don't yet know how I feel about it.  Hopefully, I will finalize my take on it, just like everyone else, and give you my own conclusion.  Today, I want to share with everyone some of the more discouraging reviews I have found about this book. (There is a purpose to this madness....)

The Guardian called it 'flat, efficient, careful,' and not in a good way.  Following with, 'it reveals all the hallmarks and acquired craft skills of the creative writing course: a persistent blandness, and incorruptible awareness of political correctness, but also a kind of defensive knowingness.'  Yikes, that's harsh!  I can tell you that while that may seem to be the case with this novel there is much more to this novel, as you will soon find out in my review coming soon.  I won't make it my goal to defend this novel, but I feel inclined to speak for it in better ways.  It's not as bad a novel as these criticisms.  I can empathize with the author as this is her debut novel.

The Guardian doesn't stop there.  It continues to criticize her form even further.  'She has been taught to keep the plot moving, to produce small surprises or reversals.  But she also writes with a total lack of irony, of awareness of the larger world.  Characterization is done by numbers: as soon as the soft-eyed boy with the skateboard appears you know that not only will he get the girl, he won't make it to the end of the novel.'  Ouch!  That's gotta hurt!  If this was my novel, oh boy, would I be cringing!  I guess sometimes criticize might be useful if applied well, so it's possible that after this blast, Karen Thompson Walker might come out with a second novel that might WOW us all, or she might not come out with a second novel at all after this.  Either or.

Even The Book Smugglers who had quite a few good things to say about it were left dry over the plot of the story, saying 'I appreciated the underlying premise of the novel, just as I appreciated Julie's story, though I did not particularly care for the way in which it was told.  I loved the slowness and the quiteness of the plot overall, and the haunting, elegiac melancholy of the story at large.'  In some ways, I can relate to this sentiment.  It was a slow moving novel with plenty of haunting and melancholy, although I did enjoy the tone of the novel and the way in which it was told.  That's something I'll touch more on in my own review of it since a lot of the appeal for the book for me was in that particular feature of the book.

The Book Smugglers mentioned something more, 'The Age of Miracles lacks the raw, powerful, emotional human connection required to elevate the book from merely good to utterly great.'  I believe this is a topic all on its own deserving of discussion.  I felt the novel had small subtleties of human elements, it wasn't quite obvious.  It wasn't focused on the most inner struggles, rather it focused on the outer struggles of the world and so it left the novel a little bit disconnected with the inner battles of the characters.  I, as well, would have liked to see little more depth to the story, rather than just the big picture.

Lastly, I want to quote Regular Rumination for a sentiment that I found to be quite common, even within myself.  'If you've already practically written the book in your head before you've read it, it's never going to live up to your expectations, and that was part of my problem with The Age of Miracles. It never quite was the book I wanted it to be.'  It seems to me that this book is turning out to be just this, but I really hope that in my review my ending will a more optimistic turn.  I hope.

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