Girl Runner
Carrie Snyder
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Buy *Girl Runner* by Carrie Snyderonline

Girl Runner
Carrie Snyder
288 pages
February 2015
rated 5 of 5 possible stars

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In exquisite prose that spans generations of Canadian Aganetha Smart’s life, Snyder captures the essence of her protagonist’s spirit, a runner who wins a gold medal for the 800 meter race at the 1928 Olympics in Australia when she is twenty. Now in a rest home at the age of 104, everyone Aganetha has ever loved has gone. Out of nowhere, two visitors arrive: Kaley and Max, a young woman and man claiming to be relatives. Wheeling the elderly woman outside for an outing, the visitors (who are in fact brother and sister) deposit their passenger in a car and drive away. It eventually occurs to Aganetha that these young people have no intention of returning her to the home. Thus begins the emotional journey, the unfolding history of Aganetha Smart, a life marked by victory and notoriety, begun humbly on a farm in Toronto, Canada.

Kaley drives as Max, camera in hand, describes a documentary they are making about Aganetha. The young woman declares that she is a runner as well, hoping to compete in the Olympics herself. While Kaley drives distractedly, hinting at secrets she is not yet willing to share, a ruminating Aganetha drifts in and out:

I creak, my bones not so different from the branches, absorbing light, graying and careful. We are old.”
Like a handmade quilt assembled stitch by stitch, piece by piece, Snyder reveals the world of a gangly girl, always taller than her peers, unable to still a body that demands to be in motion. Jerked back to reality by Kaley’s exclamations as they grow nearer the final destination, Aggie’s musings veer seamlessly between present and past, an intensely private existence of transition to another: many siblings and a childhood on the farm, the impact of a world war, city life in Toronto (where Olympic dreams become a possibility), the devastating financial crash of 1929, and the reality of long years ahead when one’s greatest ambition has been realized too young:
The appearance of perfection does not interest me. It is the illumination of near-disaster beside which we all teeter, at all times, that interests me.
This is the intimate portrait of a girl whose body determines her future in a world with few opportunities for women, but it is the texture of Aganetha’s relationships that capture the imagination. Snyder understands that the mind remains young and vibrant even when the body is betrayed by time. Aganetha is uniquely present at every age, as vital and spirited, as agonized by grief and joyful in the presence of the physical world at 104 as she is when running toward the finish line. This timelessness is present at each stage of Aganetha’s life, whether counting the graves of lost children in the family graveyard with her beloved older half-sister Fannie at eight, arguing with the predictably contentious sister Cora over the years (lives spent “locked in opposition”), sharing a room in a Toronto boardinghouse with another sister, Olive, or learning the shape of friendship with Glad, the only real friend she will ever know, a runner who both captures Aggie’s heart and breaks it. There is the euphoria of first love, the quiet support of a solid, consistent mother and distant father, a job with Olive in a meat-packing plant, and another in the chocolate factory where she joins, with Glad’s insistence, the Rosebud Ladies’ Athletic Club, a decision that leads to Olympic gold.

In an essentially simple life bound by rigid conventions restricting women’s opportunities in a patriarchal society, Aganetha’s indomitable spirit is carved from the heart of a champion, the discipline of a runner and the soul of a woman in tune with the world she inhabits. Deeply private by nature, Aganetha bears her painful burdens without complaint: “Under every layer of pain another layer of recovery lies in wait, the sweet forever surprise of endurance.” Accumulated wisdom born of triumph, tragedy ,and the courage to breach the boundaries of convention, Aganetha Smart may lack social graces, but she leaves footprints on this earth, her mind racing across the fields even when her body no longer can, embracing the present she finds when the destination is reached with Max and Kaley, surrounded by a chorus of loved ones who have gone ahead.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at © Luan Gaines, 2015

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