Rogers Writers’ Trust 2014 shortlist: Carrie Snyder

Carrie Snyder on her influences, and an excerpt of her shortlisted book, ‘Girl Runner’

This year, on Nov. 4, the Rogers Writers’ Trust will be the first of Canada’s Big Three fiction prizes to announce its winner. Maclean’s asked each of the five nominees vying for the $25,000 award to comment on a past author “whose influence you feel in your own work, and how.” Their answers, and excerpts from their shortlisted books:

Carrie Snyder, 39, was nominated for her novel Girl Runner, about a centenarian Olympic distance runner looking back at her life.

I feel the ghosts of Canadian literature walking through my work. We moved to Canada when I was 10, and I came to know here through books. I read and reread L.M. Montgomery’s novels and stories—because I have red hair, everyone expected me to identify closely with Anne, whom indeed I loved and whose spirit walks with my Aganetha onto a barn roof in Girl Runner; but it was raven-haired Emily, aspiring writer and possessed of a mysterious second sight, who I wanted to be. (No, Aganetha is not afraid of ghosts.) As a young teen, I discovered Margaret Laurence’s dark, powerful heroines; Hagar stalks through Girl Runner, I am certain, though she’s angrier than Aganetha. Because I absorbed, too, the scrappy, funny hustler in Mordecai Richler’s The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz and Margaret Atwood’s twisted urban comedy in The Edible Woman. Lodged into my consciousness is Michael Ondaatje’s In the Skin of a Lion with its rich romantic treatment of language and Alice Munro’s deep, clear-eyed illumination of The Lives of Girls and Women. Here is room for all: funny, dark, gothic, urban, romantic, crystalline, experimental, and spare. Here is terrific storytelling. I consider myself a follower in great forging footsteps—and an unabashed fan.

From Girl Runner:

The coach gives me the inside lane. Glad stretches beside me, swinging her arms in circles, bending and rocking at the waist, kicking her legs out like a dancer on a stage.

“Twice ’round,” says the coach. “On my go.”

And we’re off.

I can feel her giving me the track. She is being polite, offering up space like some kind of bargain, letting me run ahead. Is she going easy on me? I don’t like it. I’m offended. But it’s good to race with a bit of gristle on the tongue.

As we enter the first turn, it comes to me that I’ve never raced like this before. My toughest contests have been in the schoolyard against boys, straightforward tests with no tactical underbelly. I’m either the fastest, or close to it, an accepted fact, as it is also accepted that the longer the race, the more unlikely it will be that even the fastest, tallest, strongest boy could best me.

I’ve never raced anyone like Glad—my match. There crackles between us an undercurrent of emotions that I haven’t the experience to gauge, nor use to any advantage. All I know is that I’ve taken the first turn ahead of her, and I’ve stayed ahead, though she’s on my shoulder now, pushing a little. I don’t mean she touches me, I mean I can feel her presence, sapping me of will and strength, drip by drip, as if she’s put a tap into me. I have to get away from her.

I open up a gap between us on the back straightaway, but on the turn, she taps me again, easily, and it takes a kind of fury to pull away as we pass the coach. I catch a sense of him as if in a still photo, his hands clenched into fists at his sides, his shoulder muscles risen up, his mouth open. He might be shouting instructions or encouragement, but I can’t take it in.

I hear my own breath, chopping the air. The turn feels smooth. I haven’t given way this time. She hasn’t closed the gap. I’m ahead and sailing, and something in me loosens—and that is when she takes me. I don’t even feel her coming, but suddenly I hear the coach yelling, and I know he’s not yelling for me, he’s yelling for Glad. He wants her to win.

It’s like hitting a wall of water, like an ocean of resistance has risen up before me and I’m plunging into it. We are on the final turn and Glad is gathering speed ahead of me, seemingly without effort while I flail and churn through waves that come heavy and dark. I’m not sure I can stay upright for this last stretch.

She has me by an impossible gap. Still, I press. I finish on my feet. I have to walk in circles to stay upright. I feel like a fool, so easily tricked and beaten, battered, stolen of breath.

“Great run!” Glad dances around me, grinning, scarcely winded.

“Do another two of those, and then we’ll work on starts,” the coach directs Glad, and she salutes him, heads out, alone, to sprint the track. I watch her take that first corner, compact and mighty, her stride coming short, leaning into the curve with a force I know I don’t have.

“It’s your first day,” says the coach kindly. “Everyone has to have a first day.”

This excerpt is taken from Girl Runner, copyright © 2014 by Carrie Snyder. Reproduced with permission from House of Anansi Press, Toronto.

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