Reading this book was a treat after meeting the author Carrie Snyder last Thursday, at the Hamilton Author Series event, in Dundas. Listening to the beautiful prose being read by the author, was an engaging sneak peak into this book. As I started to read, I could hear the authors gentle voice almost reading the words in my mind.
“All my life I’ve been going somewhere, aimed toward a fixed point on the horizon that seems never to draw nearer. In the beginning, I chased it with abandon, with confidence, and somewhat later with frustration, and then grief, and later yet with the clarity of an escape artist. It is far too late to stop, even if I run in my mind only, out of habit”
The book tells the tale of 104 year old, Aganetha Smart, who reflects back on her experiences including her success as a long distance runner. She sets out on a journey of remembrance, leaving the institution, escaping her lonely life where she lives wheelchair bound and dependent on others. An unknown, young couple visits and takes her on an outing. Despite not being sure who they are, Aganetha does not protest leaving with them. As they travel in the car, she remembers a lifetime ago when she was young on the farm, when she was an Olympic Gold Medalist and when she lived in Toronto. She reflects on the lives that touched hers and were lost as, “my achievement is to have lived long enough to see my life vanish”
Although fictional, the story was based on actual events. While the author created the character of Aganetha some the events in the story were based on historical events. There had been an Olympic 800 metre event. The distance was later reduced to 200 metres to safeguard against the frailty of women and to ensure no harm to reproductive organs. It is hard to believe that the 800 metre event was not reinstated until the 1960’s although I do remember being unable to participate in the triple jump in the early 1980’s for fear of reproductive issues!
The story takes place in both rural Ontario and the big city of Toronto. I always enjoy reading about familiar landmarks as it gives context to the descriptions in the book. It is easy for the reader to picture the farm, the family graveyard and the field surrounding it while imagining the loss and life of the Smart family. The dichotomy between the simple, rural lifestyle on the farm and sister’s time working in factories in Toronto added interest when Aganetha moved to Toronto and started running with the track team.
As Aganetha describes her family, the reader begins to understand the complexity of her life. Although she had accomplished a great feat as an athlete, she had experienced loss, love and heartache as she “… outlived everyone I’ve ever loved, and everyone who ever loved me.”
This was a beautifully written novel, written by a local author. It is unfortunate that there is not more attention to Canadian authors. This novel belongs on the CBC 100 Novels that Make You Proud to be a Canadian list along with Where the Air is Sweet (Tasneem Jamal). I look forward to reading more fiction by Carrie Snyder and hope that she will consider narrating an audio version of her tale.