INSIDE by Alix Ohlin (Anansi), 258 pages, $22.95 paper. Ohlin appears at the International Festival of Authors, October 26 and 27. See listing. Rating: NNN
Multiple storylines can be a great fiction strategy, but they really have to come together at some point. Alix Ohlin doesn't manage that, and as a result Inside feels a little slack.
It does have some great characters, especially Mitch, a therapist who fatally fails one of his patients, and his ex-wife Grace, also a counsellor, who while skiing stumbles, literally, over a man trying to kill himself.
Ohlin expertly evokes those strange situations when a person compulsively connects to someone in not necessarily healthy ways. Grace just can't let go of the sad almost-suicide Tug. And Anne, an aspiring actor, allows homeless teenaged Hilary to insinuate herself into her life - all the way into her apartment, with the teenager's boyfriend, no less - in a scenario that's bizarre, but which Ohlin makes seem completely logical.
The narrative shifts back and forth through time so we glean how Anne is a former client of Grace's and slowly understand why she's so sympathetic to Hilary. And even within specific chapters, Ohlin shows a knack for making the most of backstory.
Anne eventually goes to Hollywood when she gets a TV role, a sequence that's pleasantly predictable but very entertaining, adding
some much-needed leavening. But, while Ohlin shows excellent craft in small ways, the big picture doesn't fully come into view.
Inside is a good read, but not the novel I'd have expected to make two major shortlists, the Giller and the Writers' Trust. On the other hand, it certainly doesn't merit the evisceration administered by reviewer William Giraldi in the New York Times, a classic exercise in patriarchal posing if I've ever seen one.