Grace is an exceedingly competent and devoted therapist living in Montreal. When she stumbles across a man who has just failed to hang himself, her instinct to help kicks in immediately. Before long, however, she realizes that her feelings for this charismatic, extremely guarded stranger are far from straightforward. In the meantime, her troubled teenage patient, Annie, runs away to pursue an acting career, and Grace's ex-husband Mitch leaves the woman he’s desperately in love with to attend to a struggling native community in the bleak Arctic.
As we follow these four compelling, complex characters, Ohlin gives them each a consciousness that is utterly distinct and urgently convincing.
Excerpted from Inside by Alix Ohlin. Copyright © 2012 by Alix Ohlin. Excerpted by permission of Vintage, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Alix Ohlin is the author of the novels The Missing Person and Inside; Babylon and Other
Stories; and Signs and Wonders, a new collection. Her work has appeared in Best American Short Stories, Best New American Voices, and on public radio’s Selected Shorts. She lives in Easton, Pennsylvania, where she teaches at Lafayette College.
“A twisty, clever and captivating read. . . . This cunning writer yanks you inside her world.” —San Francisco Chronicle
“Wondrously engrossing. . . . [These characters] could be your family, your neighbors, people you work with. . . . Resonant and haunting.” —The Boston Globe
“A subtle, intricate novel. . . . As these lives intersect over a decade, barriers crumble, secrets emerge, and this emotional jigsaw puzzle locks satisfyingly into place.” —More
“Ohlin writes in elegant prose that is flush with wit and style, as clever and smooth as Lorrie Moore.” —The Rumpus
“You can't help but become invested in Inside. Ohlin displays a profound empathy for people at their least rational—and most human.” —Entertainment Weekly
“Can any of us really save another person? Or is each of us solely responsible for his or her own life? That's the question lurking behind [this] astute novel.” —Oprah.com
“A novel that is both easily accessible and demanding in the best of ways. . . . What’s true of all good fiction applies even more emphatically here: Inside, though fully satisfying the first time through, all but demands a second reading. It’s something most readers will be more than happy to do.” —The Montreal Gazette
“A serious literary talent.” —The Washington Times
“Psychologically astute, emotionally resonant. . . . Ohlin allows her readers to know her characters more fully than any of them will ever know each other. . . . A quiet novel populated with beautifully drawn, complex characters that will get inside the heart as well as the head.” —Shelf Awareness
“A writer who should be famous. . . . Ohlin has as unsettling an old soul as Leonard Cohen’s.” —The Globe and Mail (Toronto)
“Terrific and thought-provoking.” — The Times (UK)
“In her gripping novel, Alix Ohlin covers vast geographical and emotional territory. With extraordinary power, she takes us inside the profound and fragile connections of her deeply human characters—each searching for salvation from the past while struggling to find forgiveness and redemption in the present. This story of surprising turns, grace, and compassion left me feeling that my world and my heart had grown larger.” —Keith Scribner, author of The Oregon Experiment
“The writing is sharp, flecked with details that catch your attention like a lure, just a few pages and you’re hooked.” —In Flight
“Inside takes the reader on an intense, emotional journey. . . . An authentic and empathetic read.” —The New York Journal of Books
“Alix Ohlin does a beautiful job creating these characters, each with their own emotional intensity and tone.” —Portland Book Review
“Superb [and] captivating. . . . Next to brilliant phrases and scenes of laugh-eliciting satiric jabs, there are brutal, heartbreaking circumstances.” —National Post
“We’re lucky to live in a world with a writer as gifted and as graceful as Alix Ohlin. This book is instantly engrossing, engaging, and moving. I began to think I lived inside of this beautiful and absorbing novel, so real were her characters, so complicated and human their plights.” —Robin Romm, author of The Mercy Papers
“A memorable read. . . . Consistently surprising, often devastating as the protagonists find themselves unable to share what’s on the inside.” —BookPage
“Spanning a twelve-year period, the story moves briskly between New York, Los Angeles, Montreal, Kigali, and the Inuit community of Iqaluit. As the protagonists try, and fail, to establish connections with other human beings, Ohlin charts their small victories and larger disappointments. [The] Hollywood scenes show off the author’s satiric flair.” —The New Yorker
“A woman mistakes a man for a log—and so starts Alix Ohlin’s engrossing novel, Inside. The novel jumps between decades, locations and characters with a precision that makes Ohlin’s hard work seem effortless. The novel is full of surprises and things to admire, but the writing is genuinely clever because it always serves the characters. Inside is a novel about people. It is beautifully crafted and beautifully told.” —The Scotiabank Giller Prize Jury
“Intricate, involving, and inspiring are all words that can be used to describe Alix Ohlin’s new novel Inside. . . . Deep and emotional, Ohlin’s novel shows us how coincidental and complicated life can be. A truly rewarding journey.” —The Rogers’ Writers Trust Prize Jury
“Alix Ohlin is a crazy talented writer, smart and soulful. Inside is, in a word, stunning.” —Beverly Lowry, author of Crossed Over
1. In what ways does the novel unfold the significance of its title? In what ways is it about the inner life?
2. What threads run throughout the novel? In what multiple ways are all the major characters interconnected? What important experiences do they share?
3. Tug tells Grace: “There’s something weird about a person like you who’s so intent on helping a fuck-up,” to which Grace replies, “Maybe there’s something weird about a person like you, who thinks he doesn’t deserve anybody’s help” (p. 100). Why is Grace so intent on helping Tug? Why is he so resistant to her help?
4. In what ways is this a novel about the desire to help others (or to rescue them) and the limits of this desire? Which other characters take on the role of helper? What are the consequences of their efforts?
5. Why does Anne run away from home? How is Hilary able to tell that she’s a runaway like herself?
6. After she is attacked in Edinburgh, Anne decides to keep the experience from her fellow actors and feels “the secret high that came from thinking none of them knew her at all” [p. 131]. Tug keeps his inner life “hidden behind a curtain, on a secret stage” [p. 165]. In what ways do the characters in Inside both reveal and conceal their inner lives? What does the novel ultimately suggest about one person’s ability to truly know another?
7. After Tug tells Grace about his traumatic experiences in Rwanda, the terrible violence and suffering he witnessed there, he says: “You can tell people your story, or any terrible story, and it doesn’t make any difference. Things just keep happening over and over again” (p. 186). Is Tug right about this? Does telling one’s story have no healing effects?
8. What is the effect of the novel’s shifting back and forth between characters, time periods, and places?
9. Mitch right to blame himself for not helping Thomasie more? Why doesn’t he follow through on his offer to help? What more might he have done?
10. Like most of the characters in Inside, Anne is complicated, her motivations often mysterious. Why does she let the runaways stay in her apartment? Why does she give all her money to Hilary after her success as an actress? Why doesn’t she stop to talk to Grace when she passes her in the park?
11. After Tug reveals some of his previous life to Grace, she thinks: “There is a difference between the facts of a person and the truth of him” (p. 101). What is the difference between the facts of Tug’s life and the truth of who he is?
12. Grace thinks about all her patients who wanted to be told what to do, and how they didn’t want to hear it when she said they had to be responsible for their own lives. “What was worse than having to take responsibility for everything you did or felt or said? For the way your actions radiated out to change not just your own life, but those of the people around you?” (p. 240). Why is that such a daunting responsibility? In what ways do the actions, feelings, and speech of the characters radiate out to change others as well as themselves?
13. In what ways does Inside reflect, with remarkable accuracy, the emotional contours of contemporary life in what Tug calls the “comfortable nations”?
14. The last word of the novel echoes its title, as Anne invites Mitch “inside” (p. 258). What are the implications of the novel’s ending? Will Anne and Mitch get back together? If they do, how might their new relationship differ from their marriage?