Glaciers by Alexis M Smith

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This is such a small, simple story, barely a story at all, and yet it leaves behind such an impression. Beautifully and quietly.

Isabel was in her early twenties. She had grown up in Alaska, but life had brought her to Portland, Oregon. She lived alone and she worked in a room in the library basement, repairing old and damaged books.

When she wasn’t working, she sought out dresses in vintage clothing stores, and vintage postcards in junk shops. She wondered about the places they showed, the people who had written them, the lost stories behind them. And she dreamed of so many possibilities that they suggested life might offer.

She found the name of a childhood friend inside one of the library books sent to her to be restored.

“It was a copy of Elizabeth Hardwick’s ‘Sleepless Nights’. As she pulled the book from her cart, it bloomed open in her two hands. With an exhausted, papery sigh the pages fell out one by one and drifted to the floor. Isabel bent to pick up the pages, and there was Leo’s name …”

He had been lost to her, so many things had been lost, when her parents separated and left Alaska for new lives.

At the library, Isabel worked alongside Spoke, a veteran of the war in Iraq (so named because a bomb exploded when he was repairing a bicycle and a spoke from the wheel pierced his right lung), who was as solitary and introspective as she was. They had slowly become friends, but Isabel was sure that they were kindred spirits, that they could be something more to each other.

Neighbours invite Isabel to a party. She looks for the perfect dress, and she finds it; it really is perfect. and maybe, quite imperceptibly, that created the spark that changed things.

The narrative moves slowly, weaving together memories of the past; dreams of what might have been and what might be; and scenes from the life that Isabel is living. It is written quite beautifully, in spare, delicate prose, and in a lovely style that suits its subjects and its themes perfectly.

It speaks profoundly of nostalgia for childhood days and times when life was simpler; of imagining other lives and other possibilities; and of finding a place in the word; of how all those things can have such a pull on a heart.

I can’t say that Glaciers is a book for everyone, but it is a book for everyone who understands the appeal of vintage clothes, old postcards, classic books, and who understands how lovely it is to dream.

It’s a very small book, but sometimes a small book can touch you in a way that a big book can’t.

This little book, and its heroine, touched me, and when I look at this book now it seems entirely fitting that I feel a gentle wave of nostalgia …

6 responses

  1. I am visiting my family in Portland right now, and I’d love to find a copy of this book while I am here. “the appeal of vintage clothes, old postcards, classic books, and who understands how lovely it is to dream” sounds so lovely.

  2. I missed your review when originally posted, so a late comment now. I’ve just read this little book in one sitting and I absolutely adored it and its dreamlike quality. My fingers are crossed for Isabel.

  3. Pingback: A dreamlike novel of longing | Annabel's House of Books

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