Sunday, June 24, 2012

INSIDE by Alix Ohlin (2012) House of Anansi Press, 258 pages

Ohlin's engrossing novel effortlessly shifts between time and place and character to reveal through four distinct narrative threads vulnerable lives that intertwine in unexpected ways. Grace, Tug, Annie and Mitch's stories will lure you, each a hook catching your heart, tearing it a little as it finds purchase.

Spanning over a decade that begins chronologically on the front lines in Kigali during the Rwandan genocide in 1994 where "Aid workers" like Tug "were romantics who pretended not to be, their personalities swinging like pendulums between idealism and pragmatism," Inside follows these four flawed, deeply human characters as they struggle to make meaning in their lives.

Both Grace and Mitch are therapists accustomed to probing the inner lives of their clients, though less-inclined to face their own troubles until their hands and hearts are forced to the task. Troubled teen Annie, raised in privilege in Montreal, begins to find herself when she abandons everything she knows and tries to make a career as an actress while inviting a desperate stranger inside her tiny, bare New York apartment. When John "Tug" Tugwell's attempt to kill himself fails one winter's day in Montreal, it is the kindness of a stranger that sets him upon an unexpected path toward redemption.

Like me, you will follow these complex characters on their fraught journeys, as Ohlin masterfully explores through each of them the risk of making oneself emotionally available and responsible for those closest to us.

Inside is poignant. It is also harrowing, and ultimately healing.

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