My brother gave me Ali Shaw’s The Girl With the Glass Feet for Christmas, and so I slotted it in to “First Novels,” for no other reason than I wanted to read it and it fit the category. Turns out it really is a wonderful first novel (the New York Times say so too), full of imagination and magic. The plot is the title: a girl (Ida) has glass feet, a problem because the glass spreads and cannot be ‘cured’ (though the novel goes to some pains to remind the reader that the glass is not a disease, it is part of Ida, not a disease to be cured or caught – something to be lived with and accepted).
It’s a novel about how to be in the present. Midas – the erstwhile emotionally stunted photographer and eventual lover of Ida – must abandon photography as the barrier between himself and human connection; other men must figure out how to be in relationships, how to confront their pasts and the failures of their (misguided) choices.
And Ida, while, Ida more or less serves as the metaphor/tool by which the men figure out how to be whole, feeling people. Sure she feels love and gets consumed by glass, but I can’t help but wonder whether she isn’t the one-dimensional fairy tale figure who enable plot action and character change at the expense of having these things happen for herself. Such is her lack of depth (if her solid glass-ness wasn’t enough) when she concludes she will die she writes a letter to her father and this reader gasped – having forgotten Ida might have a family, connections, feelings (fears!) about her own death. And this reader wasn’t at all moved by her death, more a reaction of wondering how Midas will respond.
I will say the richly imagined world that sees cow-dragonflies and a creature that turns all other creatures white on sight is pretty neat: though the (apparent) lack of connection between these magical things and the glass feet left this reader a little bewildered as to what all the magic was meant to (thematically?) achieve. Nonetheless, cow-dragonflies: pretty cool.