There are many novels set over a single day, from Ulysses and Mrs. Dalloway to Under the Volcano and Saturday. Debut novelist Alexis Smith contributes to their ranks with the beautiful Glaciers, which depicts a day in the life of 20-something Isabel and her experiences in Portland, Ore., with flashbacks to her years growing up in Alaska. One such recollection, of a ferry ride, leads her to reflect on calving, that moment "when part of a glacier breaks free and becomes an iceberg--a kind of birth," and then the shouts from her fellow passengers, "but no grief, not even ordinary sadness."
A delicate "ordinary sadness" weaves itself throughout Smith's short novel. Very little actually happens. Isabel is looking forward to a party in the evening; during the course of the day she buys a party dress from a thrift store; works with damaged books at the library; shows affection for her friend at work, Spoke, who is leaving the next day to fight overseas. The narrative gently swings back and forth, like a softly ticking clock, into her memories about growing up with her sister, Agnes; her father working in the Alaskan oil fields; her parents breaking up; her love of little, simple things, like postcards; and her desire to travel, to do something different, to break free. More than anything else, this gentle tale is about longing. It's strikingly reminiscent of Katherine Mansfield's work, especially her masterful "The Garden Party." Both compose their worlds carefully, with a quiet understatement, and with few words. --Tom Lavoie, former publisher