I bought this book because of five words: A Tin House New Voice. I’ve always enjoyed the journal Tin House, and I love reading first novels. For a while, I was on the borderline with this novel, wondering if it was too precious, too carefully calculated. Ultimately, though, I was won over. Smith writes so well, in what I think of as the Iowa style, and her story and its symbolism is precise and poignant. This is a quiet story, interrupted only by the presence of Spoke and the story of his name. It is the kiss Spoke’s grandfather gives his wife on the back of the neck as she stands over the sink doing dishes. It remains.
The story is summarized in this beautiful passage (151):
Her eyes close, and she begins to drift. She thinks of these things: Spoke and the war; the oil in Alaska and the oil in the Middle East; the glaciers melting; and the water that connects them all. The glaciers will melt and the water will rise. Everything will be washed through. All the young lovers in their hats and their party dresses. All the plane trees and the elms. All the tall houses. All the narrow brick lanes and city squares. Glaciers take the cities, cities take the architecture, the architecture takes the bodies.
A good first novel. A writer worth watching.