Glaciers is a careful and quiet book. Alexis M. Smith uses straightforward prose in an authentic voice to bring her lead character, Isabel to life in her debut novel. Isabel is a 28-year old native of Alaska, living in Portland. She works with damaged books in the library, and we get to know her as she reminisces about childhood, the appeal of objects with past lives and an intriguing man. The reader picks up with Isabel during a single day of her life.
We learn throughout Glaciers that everything has an intimate story - either real or imaged. Isabel has collected old portraits of people and places, vintage dresses and used dishes. She thoughtfully conceives the journey and lives of these objects, pondering their significance, and weaving tales around them. Isabel describes recurring dreams, visiting far off locales, and has an understanding of literature, as simple as love notes on old postcards purchased in thrift shops, and the powerful pull of escape to those imagined places and times.
With delicacy in one of the chapters, Smith places us with Isabel and the object of her affection at work, having coffee together in the morning, yet knowing little about each other and the awkward energy between them. She then guides us to their brief, but close and personal encounter. We see again how important these stories are for Isabel.
While unassuming, Glaciers has just the right amount of complexity. It’s subtle with layers that build Isabel into a young woman of depth. A finalist for two literary awards when it was first published in 2013, it’s a very short book, read in a day. I’m looking forward to Smith’s next work.
Publisher: Tin House
Vickie’s rating: 4 stars