This is the strangest book I’ve read so far. It has me on the verge of a panic attack. Why? Because it details an end of the world scenario so plausibly, I can imagine it happening. The premise of the book is that the world is slowing. The spin of the Earth is slowing down. Each day adds minutes, and soon that trickle becomes a flood. As I read, I found myself thinking what I would do in this situation. The prospects became grimmer as the story unfolded: birds fell out of the sky, slowing sickness afflicted the population, tens of thousands of whales were beached, and gradually—as the days lengthened to 72 hours—all the world’s vegetation died out.
I admired how the author, Karen Thompson Walker, weaved the scientific effects into dramatic plot points. For example, instead of simply having someone suffer from the slowing sickness (a sort of dizziness and weakness), she had the mother of the main character faint while driving and run down a man in the street. Likewise, as trees began to die, she could simply have stated that thy fell over. Instead, she used to underscore the political division between the clock timers (those who stick to the 24 clock) and the real timers (those who try to sleep longer to match the growing days). A tree falls through the only real timer left on the block. People suspect it might have been cut.
One interesting aspect of the book is that the Earth is one of the central characters in the story. It is obviously sick. We all know, as we read, what will happen to this sick patient in the end, yet we can’t leave her bedside. Even I, as I read, was fascinated with the next disaster. How could things get worse.
Some things that bothered were were how the main character, 11-year-old Julia, was handled. Walker attempted to give her a poignant coming of age story in a dying world. Somehow she felt hollow. Walker clearly details what happens to her. How her loneliness spins out from her. Her thoughts seem clinical in a way. I wanted a visceral reaction. I think some of the problem stemmed from the narrator, Julia, telling the story from the future (when she’s in her twenties).
A few other inconsistencies bugged me. The first was the random insertion of profanity. It’s almost as if Walker felt she needed to add a few cuss words to qualify it for young adult status. Mostly, these got in the way. Also, she made a point of stating that the price of grapes had risen to $100 per pound. Yet after that, there were several instances of characters macking out on ice cream. Surely the price for that would have shot through the roof.
Overall, I recommend this book. The central concept of the Earth slowing are worth the read alone.