Wielding deceptively simple, straightforward prose, Alix Ohlin draws us into the labyrinthine lives and emotions of a set of connected characters who spiral out and back on their own journeys in Inside. The book’s opening scene, where a woman skiing alone literally stumbles across a man who has failed to commit suicide in snowy seclusion, draws the reader in as swiftly and intimately as the characters’ unusual collision.
From that breathtaking start, Ohlin takes the reader through the complicated lives of Grace, a perhaps overly dedicated therapist; John, a traumatized former international aid worker; Annie, a troubled teenager turned aspiring actress; and Mitch, Grace’s ex-husband and a therapist himself who has worked in Canada’s Far North. As the overall story moves back and forth in time and from Montreal to Iqaluit to New York City to Hollywood to Rwanda, Ohlin maintains a steady hold on the characters and their intersecting paths, to offer the reader an enticingly, compulsively readable experience.
At the recent International Festival of Authors, Ohlin took part in a combined reading and group discussion with her fellow Scotiabank Giller Prize shortlist nominees. (In this season of literary awards, Inside is also shortlisted for the Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize.) In an elucidating exchange with discussion moderator Carol Off, Ohlin observed that Inside connects its characters through unanticipated acts of kindness. It’s a touching and potent way of encapsulating the entire book. Inside strikingly balances the precious gift of strangers reaching out to help strangers against the bittersweet conundrum of those nearest us and most beloved often being the greatest strangers and enigmas of all. This reader suspects that beautiful dilemma will continue to haunt and intrigue the most.
Thank you to House of Anansi Press for providing a review copy of Inside, by Alix Ohlin.
On Not Letting Go: An Interview with Alix Ohlin (Fiction Writers Review)