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 grew up on Cook Inlet in Alaska and, after a trip to towering Seattle, began 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 she is astonished to find that the postcard was actually sent. The message on the back of the card inspires her to construct a story about sender and recipient. Isabel needs to work a little harder to construct her own story, though; once 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. VERDICT Not for those who like big, splashy reads, this book is just the thing for more meditative readers who savor language and quiet reflection.--Barbara Hoffert, Library Journal[Page 118]. (c) Copyright 2011. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
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 "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. (Jan.)[Page ]. Copyright 2011 PWxyz LLC