Aganetha (Aggie) Smart is a fictional Canadian runner who wins the gold medal in the 800-metre race in the 1928 Amsterdam Olympic Games. Aggie’s passion for running leads to a life of uncertain fame: her new landlady in Toronto recognizes her not because she won the Olympic gold, but from her short stint modeling fur coats for advertisements. Aggie’s need to run is part of her identity, but the author places equal importance on her relationships with family members, with friend and competitor Glad, and with love interest Johnny. Interestingly, even when Aggie is running, she narrates her feelings and thoughts almost to the exclusion of her physical movements.
The first-person present-tense narrative opens with Aggie at 104 years old and is told through flashbacks. The present-time part of the story is dominated by a mystery: who are the two young people who take Aggie out of her nursing home for a long drive? Is she being kidnapped? The satisfying solution to the mystery connects important thematic threads. I was also haunted for days by two recurring images: Aggie’s dead sister, Fannie, and the lighthouse Aggie’s father builds – seemingly illogically – in a field on their farm.
The back cover copy misleadingly implies that Aggie was a real person. Even though the author’s note corrects this impression, I hope this clarification doesn’t come too late for readers who prefer their protagonists of historical fiction to be real people. To me, Aggie felt as real as any friend or family member.
This is not a sports novel but a literary novel with a strong narrative drive. Snyder’s poetic, deceptively simple language complements her fascinating, three-dimensional protagonist. Highly recommended.