Friday, January 6, 2012

Book Review: Glaciers, by Alexis M. Smith. Tin House Books

I read this 'novel' in one sitting. (Although I loved the book I am still skeptical of this work being called a novel: it's 174 pages, and the page layout has top and bottom margins of almost two inches). But me reading it in one sitting has as much to do with being carried away with the story which is sweeping in its brevity.

Glaciers is beautifully written, which is not suprising considering it is published by Tin House Books. Tin House literary journal is one of the most distinguished literary journals in North America. I am sure the task of publishing a young unknown writer for their 'new voice' series is a hard one, but one that I am glad they make.

The story follows one day in the life of twenty-something narrator Isabel, who is a librarian living in Portland, OR (represent!). It is a quiet third person narrative that follows Isabel's internal thoughts and longings. Although she lives in a city she notices the little things that get can get lost in our fast-paced world: the sounds of birds, the light through leaves, the small patch of sunlight in the kitchen in the morning, the taste of honey on a spoon warmed from tea. She collects old postcards from thrift stores and dreams of traveling to Amsterdam. She is even in love with a soldier who works with her at the library- a veteran from Iraq. Glaciers is a modern day American twist on the romantic aesthetic of Europe in the early twentieth century; Isabel is the heroine of the nerdy, book-loving, vintage clothes wearing, tea-drinking lady who loves her cat (yes, this is why I loved the book so much).

I can see the comparisons to Margarite Duras and Virginia Woolfe that Tin House touts - Smith reveals the inner longings of a woman on an extremely macro level while setting it beside a metaphor of something larger (in this case Glaciers, a natural wonder under threat from global warming). Part of my frustration with this work being called a novel is that I would have loved it to go further - to truly unpack the wonderful imagery, to go deeper into the characters, to extend the story beyond the postcard and into letters spanning years. However the sparseness adds to the modern day twist. (I loved that I could read a 'novel' in one sitting, something I can barely do these days with all that flashy information out there competing for my short attention span). Glaciers is like a little analogue warmth in a cold digital world, like listening to vinyl, or posting a letter in the mail. It is a story that resonates and humanizes, and seeks to connect.

***I am lucky I am a book nerd living in Portland, OR 'cuz I get to see Alexis M. Smith read at Powell's on Burnside this Monday, 9th January at 7pm.

1 comment:

Courtney said...

Great review. I just ordered this book and am sad that I, too, don't live in Portland, or I'd see you at the reading. Did you read The Borrower? It also had a librarian protagonist, although a completely different sort of plot, much louder than this book sounds.