Alexis M. Smith: Glaciers (2012)


The books I enjoy the most connect me to something inside of me which is elusive and hard to reach because it deals with those fleeting feelings that are hard to put into words, those emotions which escape before we can describe them. Glaciers is a book like that. It has a dreamlike quality but at the same time the descriptions are crispy-fresh, delicate but with sharp contours; the writing is cool but never cold, fragrant but not overpowering.

I hadn’t heard of Alexis M Smith before reading the review of Glaciers on Litlove’s blog (here). Smith is one of the Tin House New Voices and since Tin House is the only magazine I read regularly I was particularly keen to discover this author.

Summarizing this book isn’t doing it any justice. Not much happens. It’s pure slice of life writing. The book describes a day in the life of library worker Isabelle.  She was born in Alaska, dreams of going to Amsterdam but lives in Portland of which she says

“Walking home, she thinks Amsterdam must be a lot like Portland. A slick fog of a city in the winter, drenched in itself. In the spring and summer; leafy undulating green, humming with bicycles, breeze-borne seeds whirling by like galaxies. And in the early glorious days of fall, she thinks, looking around her, chill mist in the mornings, bright sunshine and halos of gold and amber for every tree.”

We follow her through a whole day, see her small rituals at work, her love for vintage clothes and postcards, her dreamlike states in which she imagines another life for herself and for other people. She’s in love with Stoke but he doesn’t seem to love her back. She meets her best friend Leo and they spend an evening at a party with quirky artists and actors and they all tell each other stories.

In a few flashbacks we learn about Isabelle’s past, her family, her passions, her fears. In only one day Isabelle experiences more emotions than many people in months. There is happiness and love, despair and disappointment, hope and elation, fun and routine. And stories, stories, stories.

I’ve read similar stories but what really makes Glaciers stand out is the writing. Smith uses almost no conjunctions, the sentences are stripped of anything superfluous but it still feels colourful, albeit in a gauzy kind of way. It’s the bookish equivalent of cherry blossoms. Am I making any sense? Be it as it may,  I really hope many of you are going to read this little marvel and will enjoy it as much as I did.