Girl Runner is the debut novel of short story writer Carrie Snyder. The life of Aganetha Smart, who wins gold for Canada in the 1928 Olympics, but ends her life aged 104 alone in a miserable nursing home. This book is about what makes a life, and makes you look beyond the ‘hero’ status of sports starts into who they really are and what, practically, they have actually achieved.
The book is being marketed as a rags-to-riches story of one poor farm girl against adversity, which makes me quite angry as that isn’t what the book is about at all; the actual makings of Aganetha as a Olympian cover very little ground within the novel and she comes up against absolutely no obstructions whatsoever. It is more about living as a woman throughout the twentieth century, just one that happens to be very good at running.
Aganetha herself is fictional, but this book did leads to me reading up on the Candanian Women’s Olympic team, and in parts I almost wish that Snyder had actually written their story, as the life of Bobbie Rosenfeld, whom I have never heard of before but who’s biography I will be looking up, is certainly worthy of tribute.
I did enjoy the beginning of the book, as the writing is very good. But Snyder is a short story writer and it shows; the plot is patchy and floats around and Aganetha herself never really made her mark on me. She doesn’t seem spikey enough somehow; she only gets to compete once in her sport of long distance running because the Olympic authorities decide after the first year that women cannot cope with the pressures of the sport, but she doesn’t seem particularly angry about this.
The book is also far far too cluttered. I like books that encompass everything-hence my love of Forever Amber, but you have to be able to manage this in a linear strand that makes sense within the context of the characters and in Girl Runner I didn’t find that. The writing itself is lovely, but I just wanted it to be more focused. I would be very interested in reading Snyder’s short story books Juliet Stories and Hair Hat. The best thing about Girl Runner was the small touches of the characters such as Aganetha’s dad and her bitchy bigoted sister, I would have loved to have seen their story played out in full.