The Story Of This Story: “Glaciers”

alexis smith

Alexis Smith’s Glaciers is about Isabel, a girl with an admiration for vintage and dreams of Amsterdam. Isabel grew up in Alaska, but moved to Portland with her father and her sister Agnes after her parents divorced when she was ten. It was through her father that she discovered a love for the old, as the pair went “junking” together when she was four years old. She didn’t know how to find something, or know what to collect. What was a treasure? Her father explains to her “…it’s a treasure if you love it. It doesn’t matter how much it costs, or whether anyone else wants it. If you love it, you will treasure it, does that make sense?”

After Isabel finds a box of old photographs, she understands it, and begins making up stories for the people in the photographs. It then progresses into postcards, and adult Isabel has an old apartment where all of the decorations, furnishings and her own clothing are from another time. “But Isabel does not admire these things. She feels a need to care for them that goes beyond an enduring aesthetic appreciation. She loves them like adopted children.” It should also be noted that the novel itself takes place over the course of a day, but the chapters alternate with stories of Isabel’s childhood.

Present-day Isabel works at the local library in conservation and preservation, surrounded by old books with stories not only in words but in their condition. She works with a young ex-soldier in tech support nicknamed Spoke; no one knows where the nickname came from except for Isabel. The reader is taken back to a time when the two ran into each other at a party, and he told her the story. She decides while at work to invite him to a party she will be attending for her best friend Leo.

She runs into Spoke while on lunch, and has a clever idea to ask him to the party involving the fortune cookie she receives at the end of her meal. After leaving the fortune on Spoke’s desk, she discovers that he has been called back to duty, thus crushing her fantasy.  She still waits until they are the last two in the basement so she can talk to him. They end up going back to his apartment in order to talk. She is drawn to him; he feels like a force to her, and she can’t help but be pulled in.

Isabel attends Leo’s party, alone but content. The partygoers decide to play a game where the host gives an emotion and the person whose turn it is has to tell a personal story depicting it. It sounds like the kind of party game I’d want to watch, not participate in. The story ends there, as it’s just a snapshot of this woman’s life/psyche.

The story is sweet, as is Isabel. She is so in love with imagining another life for herself in another time.  You want to encourage her to create her own story, instead of the imagined one she makes for strangers. It’s a crime many of us are guilty of, but we do have the power to change that, even if it’s something as simple as waiting for the person who sends your heart aflutter, just so you can speak to them.

This is the kind of book you want to curl up with in a coffee shop or in the comfort of your own home on a rainy day. (It does take place in the Pacific Northwest, after all.)  It’s short, but if you’re a fan of the likes of Miranda July, you will enjoy this sweet little tale. Why Glaciers, though? No, it’s not just because Isabel grew up in Alaska. I thought this quote said it best: “Like other great creatures before them, the glaciers were dying, and their death, so distant and unimaginable, was a spectacle not to be missed.” It speaks volumes about our own obsession with the past, and how our lives damn well should be spectacles. I know I don’t want to have an uninteresting story.