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

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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.” —

“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 She has a son and two cats, and they all live together in a little apartment in Portland, Oregon.


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Product Details

  • Series: A Tin House New Voice
  • Paperback: 112 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 (31 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #764,074 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

12 of 13 people found the following review helpful By mom2andy on May 29, 2012
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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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Cynthia Hudson on July 27, 2012
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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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Erin on January 25, 2012
Format: Paperback
I received an advanced copy of this book. It is a translation of her book Personne. The book comes out February 2012.

Aubry's father was never a regular father. He struggled with mental disorders her entire life. After he dies, she finds a manuscript in his home. This story is her tells her fathers story while, also, trying to make sense of his disorder, of all mental illness.

First, this is a 'fictional memoir'. I've never been a big fan of these types of books. I feel like I am being told a lie and it's being sold as the truth. I don't like them in general. Especially if I know some background of the person(s) it's about. Thankfully I know nothing of Aubry or her father.

The book goes back and forth between Aubry's memories and thoughts to parts of her fathers own memoirs. It gave some good insight into the life of someone struggling with mental illness and, also, into the life of their family members, also struggling to deal with it. The chapters are named by the letters of the alphabet, each one corresponds to a word that reminds her of her father. I liked how they were broken up in such a personal way.

Aubry's writing is very simple but beautiful. The simplicity of it really adds emotion to the narrators voice. In it you can feel her love, hate and confusion for her father. I enjoyed that aspect of it. The fathers voice is unique, too. You could see how intelligent he was during his lucid times and how confusing it was for him during his 'mad' times. It was very interesting.

The story can be dull at times. It didn't keep my attention the entire way. There were parts where I really struggled.

Also, the layout of the writing drove me crazy.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Library Lady on May 14, 2013
Format: Paperback
I thought this book had the potential to be great. It however was only medicore because none of the ideas were developed enough to get the reader involved. Through out the book ideas surfaced that would have made you love her characters and the book. But she didn't develop them. I wish she would take this book and fill it out with more detail, and I would try it again. I finished the book wondering "What is the point?",it seemed like disjointed ramblings.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Jennifer Spiegel on March 17, 2013
Format: Paperback
I went from Moby-Dick to Alexis M. Smith's Glaciers. I wasn't even trying to be ironic. All I can say to Alexis is this: Thank you. You will all have to wait for the next edition of Snotty Literati for my Moby thoughts, but Glaciers was read in a sweet sigh of relief. To Alexis, I say it again: Thank you.

No, really, we all know--or those of us who have had the privilege of reading Melville's epic--that Moby-Dick is dense. I mean, if the whale doesn't drown you, the verbiage just might. I didn't pick up Glaciers, though, because I needed a break. I picked it up because it was highly recommended (David Abrams sorta talked it up and, hey, I was paying attention), and the cover is so very pretty.

Glaciers is sparse and lean--maybe minimalist. At first, I had my doubts. Sometimes these sheer narratives with pretty prose add up to nothing, you know? I'm not looking to diss Joe Meno's Office Girl, but I remember seeing something that paired my Love Slave with his book (Why? Working girls in Big Cities?), rushing out to read Office Girl, and feeling slighted (Is there a pun in there?). Maybe, just maybe, I like my books to leave me satiated, much like that feeling one has after a really good meal. These thin little books--eaten up in less than twenty-four hours--they won't cut it.

Glaciers, consumed in the less-than-twenty-four-hour period, actually sits well, increasingly well. The more I think about it, the more I like it. First, it's spare, but exceptionally well-written. Smith's prose accomplishes much in its small space. I liked her sentences very much.
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