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Pickle Me This

September 9, 2014

Girl Runner by Carrie Snyder

girl-runnerI spent the weekend reading Carrie Snyder’s new book, Girl Runner, a novel about Aganetha Smart, a 104 year old Olympic medallist who was briefly the nation’s sweetheart during the 1920s. It’s a book that has a map inside (!), which shows a lighthouse in the middle of a farmer’s field, so clearly this is a book that is constructed of mysteries and wonder. It begins with Aganetha being taken from her nursing home by two young people who are strangers, but she doesn’t have the wherewithal nor stamina to protest in any way, and besides, she is intrigued by being taken anywhere. From the book’s beginning: “All my life I’ve been going somewhere, aimed toward a fixed point on the horizon that seems never to draw nearer.”

The narrative shifts between Aganetha in the present day, being taken on her strange journey, and her memories of the past, growing up on her family’s farm and in Toronto, where she moved during the 1920s. Notably, the flashbacks occurs outside of chronological order, which isn’t the way this thing is usually done, and makes much more sense as being a story as constructed by a somewhat patchy 104-year-old mind. Plus it’s just pretty interesting to have all the pieces come together in a (seemingly) random order until we realize that Snyder has been placing these pieces like a puzzle, and just how they all fit together proves most surprising, and plotted by a decidedly deft hand.

The novel spans more than a century, and there’s a swiftness to it that befits a story about a girl whose feet made her fly, though I wanted more depth at times, more meat and grit. Because there is so much to delve into—Snyder weaves fascinating stories into Aganetha’s timeline, including her mother, a midwife, who performed abortions for local girls in trouble; the story of a doomed stepmother and her parade of dead babies; the reality of life working at a factory in Toronto in the early 20th century; what it was to be a female athlete at that time; complicated dynamics between Aganetha and her siblings; her dreamy father and his crazy inventions (and just why he built a lighthouse in their field); and also a glimpse into the poverty and desperation of the urban poor. All this and more, and this isn’t even a long book. The pages fly on by.

I first encountered Carrie’s work with Hair Hat back in 2010 when we did the Canada Reads Indies, when the title of her blog was even a little bit true. Since then, she found great success with her second collection, The Juliet Stories, and it’s also a sign of her kindness and generosity that she contributed her wonderful essay, “How to Fall”, to The M Word. And I’m particularly excited about Girl Runner, whose rights have been sold in countries are over the world, that it’s everybody’s chance to encounter Carrie Snyder now. Because the hallmark of all of her books has been their prose, vivid imagery, and characters’ strange tendencies to fly off the ground… and off the page.

So readers, get ready to be dazzled.

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