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Glaciers (A Tin House New Voice) Paperback – Deckle Edge, January 17, 2012

4.3 out of 5 stars 30 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


"Glaciers has all the things I love about reading: an engaging story, beautiful writing, and memorable characters. Isabel's story broke the reading slump I was in because it's different from all the other books out there in one particular way: it's wholly unique, a hidden gem."
Huffington Post

“An Alaska childhood and dreams of faraway cities such as Amsterdam inform Alexis M. Smith’s Glaciers, a delicate debut novel set in Portland, Oregon—“a slick fog of a city…drenched in itself”—that reveals in short, memory-soaked postcards of prose a day in the life of twentysomething library worker Isabel.”
—Lisa Shea, ELLE

"Glaciers, Alexis Smith’s brilliant debut novel, is filled with kaleidoscopic pleasures. Using prose as clear as pure, cold air, Smith moves the narrative vertically as well as horizontally, each ticking minute yielding more insights into a young woman’s life revealed over one single day. The past, present, and imaginary future stream into beautifully unstable geometries: Isabel's childhood snows from her youth in Alaska are juxtaposed against her adult trip to a vintage thrift store; her hopes for an evening party push against the echoes of war that haunt a young soldier whom she loves. Line by line, in and out of time, this is a haunted, joyful, beautiful book--a true gift."
—Karen Russell, author of Swamplandia!

"A delicate and piercing first novel. Glaciers is like a vintage dress: charming, understated and glinting with memories of loneliness and love."
—Jane Mendelsohn, author of I was Amelia Earhart and American Music

“Glaciers is a carefully precise and beautiful meditation on one young woman’s restless heart. It resonates like a haunting postcard from someone else’s life.”
—Kevin Sampsell, author of A Common Pornography

"How appropriate that on the last page of this spare, beautifully written first novel, one character asks another, “Tell us a story—about longing.” For longing defines the life of Isabel, who grows up on Cook Inlet in Alaska and, after a trip to towering Seattle, begins collecting postcards from other cities, among them Paris, Budapest, and Barcelona. As an adult, Isabel finds a postcard depicting Amsterdam at a junk store she frequents—she loves old things; her job is restoring damaged books at a library—and is astonished to find that the postcard was actually sent. The card carries a message that inspires her to construct a story about sender and recipient. Isabel needs to work a little harder to construct her own story, though; an ungainly child, she’s still tentative about relationships and gingerly approaches Spoke, a colleague at the library who served in Iraq. A series of events, one involving a note about Amsterdam left in a book she’s repairing, wheels her gracefully in a different direction."
—Barbara Hoffert, Library Journal

"Smith’s debut unspools in delicate links of linear thought, told (mostly) in deceptively simple sentences embedded in the consciousness of Isabel, born in the Pacific Northwest and raised in Alaska with her older sister. Isabel dreams of Amsterdam and, “though she has never been, and probably will never go,” she believes everything is perfect there. The story ostensibly covers a single day, but Isabel’s recorded memories reach back to childhood, with incidents in between like a camping trip, an interaction with an astrologer, and a consequential encounter with an immense glacier. Isabel’s love of books leads her to get a job at the library, where she falls for co-worker “Spoke,” an Iraq war veteran whose sudden re-enlistment casts a long shadow, turning Isabel introspective at the festive party she’d planned to attend with him: 'Spoke is already halfway across the country, where people are making breakfast, letting dogs out onto dewy lawns, boarding busses and trains for downtowns, lining up in coffee shops,” she thinks, while “[i]n Amsterdam, it is already a lovely afternoon, the leaves turning, fall about to break.' This slim book’s lovely design respects and enhances Smith’s voice, with ample white space on every page and a general eschewing of commas and quotation marks. Lyrical and luminous."
—Publishers Weekly, Starred Review and Pick of the Week

"Alexis M. Smith's Glaciers is a quietly powerful fairy tale. Smith's voice, patient and understated and precise captures the poetry of loss and longing."
—Cara Hoffman, author of So Much Pretty

"I cannot easily remember the last time I've been so deeply moved as in this quiet treasure."
—Douglas A. Martin, author of Once You Go Back

“The story is one of longing: longing for a life in a faraway city, for the love of a co-worker to be requited, for a closet full of vintage dresses. The book takes place over the course of one day in twenty-something Isabel’s life, with glimpses of her past remembered in-between. The present is used as a point of reference for the past, and although the story moves back and forth, the prose reads smooth like running water.”
—Alyssa Roibal, The Rumpus

“Smith’s toggling between fleeting moments and lasting belongings resonates through a quiet and careful balance.”
—Emily Booher, Willamette Week

“This weaving together of the personal, the sentimental, the environmental, and the trivial gives Smith's unassuming first novel surprising emotional weight.”
—Alison Hallet, The Portland Mercury

“In short novels like this one, every word has added resonances, and Smith has taken careful measure of every passage, testing each line for symbolic effect.”
—Minneapolis Star Tribune

“Sweet and sparse, Glaciers resonates humanity in the little details. Rather than cluttering a simple message with overly fancy prose and convoluted plot points, Glaciers holds fast to simplicity, letting Isabel sing through the pages. The descriptiveness of her life, and the understated elegance of the novel allows us to feel the relatability of the characters, and the tiny details all compound upon one another to lend us the climactic moment for which we read. Glaciers takes a risk in that Isabel comes alive through the world around her first, rather than in her actions, but it's done well. Glaciers manages to present not only a plot that is familiar in the fact that it is real and tangible, but also a full range of emotions that promises to tug at your heartstrings at least once.” —iswimforoceans.com

“The prose is wistful yet crystal-cut in a way that makes the internal monologues and thoughts sparkle, and the vivid memories flesh out the story of one day in the life.”
Side B Magazine

“A delight, this book. A tiny delight, a beautifully-made thing, that breathes, has a life to it.”

“In Glaciers, we follow a young woman named Isabel through the course of one day in Portland. She goes to work and to a party. She buys a dress from a vintage store and summons the courage to act on a crush. Woven through all of this are memories from her Alaskan past, which together form a rich counterpoint of her inner and outer lives.”
—Oregon Public Broadcasting

“In her debut novel, Alexis Smith shines light on these 'little things,' thereby transforming Isabel’s world into something more beautiful yet complicated.”

“’Glaciers’ is written in a simple yet lyrical style, with the text surrounded by plenty of white space on the page, appropriately reminiscent of the way poetry is printed. The short time frame – just one day – compresses the story of Isabel’s life and gives it a powerful immediacy. You can think of this book as functioning as vintage postcards do: fascinating images coupled with intriguing messages that suggest a much longer and deeper story than their relatively few words convey.”
—Under the Covers

“Take advantage of a lazy morning or afternoon and read this delightful debut novel from a new voice among Portland authors.”
—Northwest Book Lovers

“This lovely, contemplative novel packs a bigger emotional punch than its size suggests. As with the title metaphor, so much resides under the surface of who we are in public, what we say, and what we do. Honest, bittersweet reflection makes Glaciers perfect reading to startthe new year.”
—Ariana Paliobagis, Country Bookshelf, Bozeman, MT

“This is an incredibly moving piece of writing, and Alexis M. Smith is an acute storyteller, and her attention to details is nothing short of stunning.”
—Chicago Ex-Patriate

“Glaciers is like a little analogue warmth in a cold digital world, like listening to vinyl, or posting a letter in the mail. It is a story that resonates and humanizes, and seeks to connect.”
—Write On!

About the Author

Alexis M. Smith grew up in Soldotna, Alaska, and Seattle, Washington. She received an MFA in creative writing from Goddard College. She has written for Tarpaulin Sky and powells.com. She has a son and two cats, and they all live together in a little apartment in Portland, Oregon.

Product Details

  • Series: A Tin House New Voice
  • Paperback: 174 pages
  • Publisher: Tin House Books (January 17, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 193563920X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1935639206
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.6 x 7.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 5 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (30 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #663,780 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
Reading this book was like watching someone start with an empty room and then fill it with perfectly arranged pieces that feel like home. Smith's prose is clean and elegant, but feels so fragile and yet deep at the same time, just like the glaciers the main character, Isabel, loves so much. Her writing is beautifully descriptive, yet uses few words to conjure just the right images in the reader's mind. I was whisked away instantly and fell in love with the characters. Reading this book made me feel exactly as the main character must have felt when indulging in her passion for postcards and seeing the the tip of the "glacier", knowing that underneath what we can see there is a massive story that we can only guess about. The beauty of the story lies in its brevity. It shows me only 1 day, only a brief set of memories, only a postcard of Isabel's life. The rest is up to the reader. This is one of the best short reads I've had in a very long time.
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This is a wonderfully well-written, thoughtful, and creative novella. I read it in one sitting and enjoyed every page. This book is transportive - I was caught up in it almost immediately and was sorry when it ended. The prose is clear, descriptive, and effortlessly lyrical. The story is heartfelt and real. The main character's experiences and thoughts ring true and feel almost universal. It's also well-structured, as each chapter is a little vignette, with overarching themes that give the story continuity and meaning. The vintage elements (the postcards, photographs, the dress) create a sort of layered effect as small stories are told or imagined as we follow the larger story of a day in the life of Isabel. It's a book I'll keep and read again someday. I hope Ms. Smith is already working on her second novel, because I would love read more from her!
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Format: Paperback
Isabel lives her life through other people's stories; old movies, old photographs and clothing she finds in thrift stores, and old books she repairs in the basement of the library. But when she finds an old postcard of Amsterdam in her favorite junk shop, she is surprised to find a message on the back. She imagines it is a message from one lover to another, and she begins to think about the way she lives her life.

She resolves to reveal something of herself to Spoke, a veteran of the war in Iraq who also works in the basement of the library. Spoke, too, is a solitary figure, liked by his co-workers, but extremely private. Isabel struggles to make a connection while she can.

Glaciers by Alexis M Smith on the surface seems disarmingly simple, but as the story quietly unfolds and Alexis reveals more about herself and her childhood near the Glaciers in Alaska, the portrait emerges of a twenty-something woman who values the things that others have discarded, while she struggles to find beauty and meaning in the present. Her hometown of Portland, Oregon plays a strong role in the story, as it allows her to be isolated even in the midst of an urban landscape that is on the surface much the same as Isabel.

Glaciers has a restless quality to it that will keep Isabel's story in your mind long after you have turned the last page of this small but provocative novel.

The publisher provided me with a copy of this book for review.
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As soon as I finished Glaciers I went back to the beginning. I don't recall doing that before, and I read a lot, mostly fiction. I just didn't want to let go of these characters. Some of them were so real (the mother), some almost like fairytale characters. This novel isn't a fable, it isn't mystical, but it isn't realism either. I wasn't sure the end was really the end, moreover, I didn't want it to be the end.

Another reviewer pointed out that this very spare story, which does feature glaciers, was like the tip of an iceberg, which resonated with me. Others mention how satisfying the design of the book is. The font, the stock, the amount of air between the lines--all are of a piece with the author's style and stories, for there is more than one story in this novel.

A remarkable first novel, structurally and stylistically. Everything works.
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At fewer than 175 pages and with lots of white space, I had a tough time getting through this book this. Initially, I thought it might be just what I needed to get me out of my reading funk, but this just annoyed me.

The protagonist of Glaciers is Isabel , a 20-something who repairs damaged books in the basement of the library. She also likes to collect other peoples discards and on a mission to find the perfect vintage dress.

The writing style is stream of consciousness style where Isabel's undeveloped ramblings are used to describe a backstory or event. For me the best part pf this book was the unique cover which reflects the protagonist's quest to find that perfect vintage dress.

Not my cup of tea - a definite skimmer.
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"...soon she loved [cities in the Pacific Northwest] in the same way she loved the landscape of [Alaska]. Old churches were grand and solemn, just like glaciers, and dilapidated houses filled her with the same sense of sadness as a stand of leafless winter trees..."

Twenty-eight-year-old Isabel has a fondness for things in decline, from the calving glaciers of her childhood, to thrift shops, to her job in the damaged books department of a Portland, Oregon library. This delicate novella weaves bits of her past into today -- the day she shops for a vintage party dress and decides to ask her co-worker, an Iraq war veteran nicknamed Spoke, on a date.

"It's never the wedding dresses, you know. We keep those, too, but only because they're so blooming expensive. No. I've seen enough old ladies' closets to know what we really hold on to. Not the till-death-do-us-part dresses. It's those first lovely dresses: the slow-dance dresses, the good-night-kiss dresses. It's those first pangs we hold on to."

Lovely. I look forward to more by Smith.
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