I feel like it took me a long time to finally get my hands on this book. I put in a request for it at the library as soon as it appeared on the short list for the Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize. I had made up my mind to read them all. I had already read All My Puny Sorrows and The Confabulist. Then, Pastoral came right away, Girl Runner only just arrived a few weeks ago, and I haven’t heard a peep yet about All My Saints. I might have to give up on that one. So much for reading them all before the winner is announced!
The narrator of Girl Runner is Aganetha Smart, a 104-year-old woman, looking back on her life as a daughter, sister, friend, and runner. Above all, a runner. Let me just say, though, that you do not have to be a runner to enjoy this book, or to ‘get it’. You just need to love a good story.
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 with 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.
You do what you do until you’re done. You are who you are until you’re not.
Girl Runner fills that ever-existent hole that calls out for a good story about someone else’s life. Aggie’s memories take us back to her childhood on the farm with her family; her siblings, her parents, the little graveyard full of unknown relatives. Then, to the big city of Toronto, her training, and her race in the 1928 Olympics in Amsterdam.
Aggie moves through her life with determination, always with the feeling that she doesn’t quite fit in. While rooting for her in her life as well as her races, I longed to ease her way in the world. Her voice is very human; at times scrappy and strong, other times lonely and uncertain.
It wasn’t strength that made me a runner, it was the desire to be strong. I ran for courage.
How does a person die? Is it like a window gone dark, shuttered? Does a person keep looking at this world until the very last second of life, trying to take it in and understand it at last, or simply to hold it, to attend to it, to love it? Or does a person stare in dreadful panic of all she is losing?
The appearance of perfection does not interest me. It is the illumination of near-disaster beside which we all teeter, at all times, that interest me. It is laughing in the face of what might have been, and what is not.
I think of everything my mother does not know about me. Everything she never will. Yet I fail to consider everything I do not know of her. Everything I never will.
My achievement is to have lived long enough to see my life vanish.
Girl Runner spans almost the entire 20th century. It touches on both wars, the Spanish Influenza, the Stock Market Crash of 1929 and the Depression that follows, as well as the changing views of women’s issues over the decades. In addition, there is some history of women’s athletics, particularly in Track and Field events.
Aggie runs in the first Olympics to include female track and field. Her event is the 800-meter race, which immediately gets eliminated again due to the fear that women are too delicate to race distances over 200 meters. “It wasn’t until the 1960 Olympics in Rome that women were again allowed to compete at the 800-meter distance”. Carrie Snyder talks, with passion, about the women competing in the Olympics then and now, in the Author’s Note at the back of the book. Reading this section made her book that much more meaningful, and gave me a greater understanding of why she felt compelled to write it.
You can find out more about Carrie Snyder, her books, and her blog at Obscure Canlit Mama.
Here, Carrie Snyder talks briefly about some of the books and characters that have influenced her writing of Girl Runner. Among them, Hagar from The Stone Angel, which I have just finished reading, and couldn’t help but notice the similarities between the two books.
Advice to an aspiring writer from Carrie Snyder’s blog.