Sunday, March 3, 2013

Glaciers by Alexis Smith

A wistful longing permeates Glaciers, Alexis Smith's slim debut novel. Isabel, a 28-year-old library worker in Portland, loves thrift store shopping and dreams of foreign travel. She is "on the cusp of possible love." Isabel has a crush on Spoke, a colleague who was injured when he fought in Iraq. She is too shy to speak more than a few words to him, but she notices everything, like the buttons on his shirt.

"She pours the last of the tea from the metal pot and sips. It is lukewarm, now, and she holds it in her mouth and lets it roll over her tongue. She cracks her fortune cookie and thinks of buttons. Small, pearly shirt buttons. The way they feel between your fingertips, against fingernails, slipping through cloth."

Introspective vignettes span one day in Isabel's life, slipping backward in time as she thinks about her childhood in Alaska. Isabel plans to attend a party that evening after work, where she'll meet up with her gay friend, Leo.

The subtle parallels between Glaciers and Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway get an extra nudge when someone at that party mentions that she regrets dismissing the opportunity to "visit the river in which a beloved writer drowned" while on a trip to England.

Smith's lyrical and delicate style appealed to me very much. I was also surprised at the similarities between my own life and Isabel's, like wearing thrift clothes from the 50s when I was her age, dressing up as Nancy Drew one Halloween, and being vegetarian.

Readalikes: Mrs. Dalloway (Virginia Woolf); Five Bells (Gail Jones); The End of the Alphabet (C.S. Richardson); Ms. Hempel Chronicles (Sarah Shun-Lien Bynum) and Weetzie Bat (Francesca Lia Block).

No comments: