Gloria is less a novel than it is a character study. And to say that I call into question ‘what a novel is’ and that is not my intention – what I mean to do is problematise the ‘novel-ness’ of Gloria. Maybe a character study is enough? Maybe a character study really can sustain 600+ pages of dense, full text. Because nothing happens. We go through one summer in the inner life of Gloria, the summer of 1957 in Raysburg, West Virginia. We go back, in full text, to who she was through her life, first in boarding school, then in Raysburg, and then in college. Through college, her sorority, her friendships, then back to Raysburg in 1957, just 21 years old. And then the summer of 1957, the full and broad and hot summer. I read Gloria in July specifically to have read it in the summer – I don’t tend to time books by seasons but I wanted to see if it made a difference here and the only way to do that, really, is to read it again this winter, in the rain, when I would otherwise be reading about Canada in some fashion.
But I think it mattered, to read a book set over a summer in just one summer week, sitting at the Whip at Main and 6th after a long bike ride, reading over beer for several hours, reading about West Virginia. The structure mirrors Alex Driving South – a brief real-time narrative, framing memories that contextualise the real-time events.
What matters for me is the sheer empathy with which the entire thing is written; no gimmicks or distancing devices, nothing clever. Long discursive reaches into topics such as modern poetry and the costume of a college majorette in 1955 – topics I couldn’t imagine ever spending time with. But this is the characterisation and, again, the trust in a favourite author. I haven’t tried before to track empathy as a trait in fiction, as a quality in writing. But more than The Sea or What I Loved or any character-driven-literary-fiction I’ve read that any other people have actually read, Gloria is driven by empathy.
Sitting at the Whip again this last weekend, after a bike ride across town, to Kitsilano to buy more books. And as happy as I was with what I had to read I also wanted to read Gloria again.