Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Inside by Alix Ohlin

This is one of the best books I've read in a long time - as a finalist for the Giller Prize, it was much better than some of the winners I've read.  The book is structured in an interesting way.  The chapters are written primarily from the point of view of three different characters and take place in three different years - though they all intersect at some point.  The first character is Grace, a therapist in Montreal in 1996.  She is skiing on the mountain and comes across the victim of a failed suicide attempt, Tug.  She calls 911, saves his life and eventually they enter into a relationship though he is never completely healed.  Only one chapter is from Tug's perspective - in Rwanda in 1994 - allowing us to gain insight into his psychological pain.

The second major character is Anne.  We meet her as a troubled teenager in 1996 when she is Grace's patient.  However her chapters take place primarily in 2002 in NY and LA.  She is a struggling actress constantly on the run from the pain in her past (which brought her to Grace in the first place).  Her life is strange - she takes in two homeless runaways, flirts with lesbianism, succeeds then fails in television and we never find out for sure if she reconnects with her family.

The third character is Grace's ex-husband, Mitch.  His chapters are the most current - they take place in Iqaluit and Montreal in 2006.  He is also a therapist who has been in a dissatisfying relationship with a woman and her autistic son so travels to Iqaluit to escape.  While there, his girlfriend finds someone else and he is haunted by a patient who he is unable to reach.  He returns to Montreal and happens upon Grace who has just been in a car accident and we discover now has a 10 year old daughter.  He works his way into their lives by helping her with household chores as she recovers from her accident.  The state of their relationship at the very end is not really resolved - which feels very realistic.

I loved the writing of this book - though the jumping back and forth in time and perspective could be confusing, it flows masterfully.  It also keeps you interested, you are both anxious to see how some early matters resolve and curious about how present circumstances arose so happy to go back in time to have the blanks filled in.  It's a pleasure to spend time with such well developed and very human characters.

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