Alix Ohlin (b4b s2 e15)

In radio show, reviews on August 9, 2012 at 12:07 pm

“Suffering does not make people noble. A lot of times suffering makes people psychologically incompetent, and they’re not good at having relationships.”
Alix Ohlin

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Alix Ohlin (b4b – s2.e15)

August 2nd: Alix Ohlin
Alix Ohlin (“oh-lean”) is a Montreal-born writer who is four books into a rich writing career that deserves many more readers. June, 2012 saw the simultaneous publication of her new book of stories, Signs and Wonders, and her new novel, Inside. Unheard of, no? But Toronto’s Anansi Press is on to something: Alix Ohlin writes characters you’ll wnat to know better. In her stories, she offers people who are in transition, who alternate between offering help and needing it. “The equation of helping is really very complicated. There are all kinds of reasons why attempts to intervene maynot succeed.”

In the Ohlin-iverse, there is much data for the student of psychology. And lesson after lesson about how easy it is to muddle even a seemingly simple relationship. Or perhaps the lesson is that simple human relationships rare. She says, “unhappiness, as difficult as it is, is usually where the story is found.”

For Alix, stories are more of a playground for the writerly mind, whereas novels take commitment to character over time.

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  1. This was a fantastic show! Selon moi anyway. Meaning that I wanted to stop and write down most of it. And I am a little bit in love with Alix Ohlin now. My (actual) best friend’s name is Alix, so it’s gonna be cool to get those books for her.

    But why does the show stop so suddenly? 38 minutes, no goodbyes, no mention of the fact you’re going to be away the next week. Listeners are hanging off a cliff, dude!

  2. So she showed up on another show I frequent; I zoned in on it after liking her here. Am I promoting the competition if I link to it? I’m gonna guess there is none of that. This is lovely:

    • Em,

      J Robert Lennon was on CBC this week, talking about negative book reviews. His Salon piece is here:

      I bring it up, because he’s referencing a hole-tearing review of Alix’s books by William Giraldi that ran in the New York Times Book Review. I read Giraldi’s review, and as a fan of Alix’s prose, AND as a bookseller (meaning, I know from experience, there are always readers for a book… no matter if their brows are high, low, or furrowed with misapprehension), I thought he was overdoing it. It reads like he’s personally offended by Ohlin, the woman, and deciding to take it out on her books. Having said that, I guess it’s possible that Giraldi was truly, deeply offended by what he thinks is bad writing on Ohlin’s part, and perhaps also a bit stung by a publishing machine that would put money and time behind books he feels are inherently poor.

      Regardless, I found Ohlin’s books emotionally affecting. Apparently Giraldi did, too.

      • Yay! I didn’t hear that show, but I did look up that review (Peter mentioned it), and Lennon’s piece came up as well. What a set-to! But here’s the thing: whatever it was that caused Giraldi to write in such an inflammatory style, inflame he did with the result that probably a lot more people have now heard of Ohlin’s book than they would have otherwise! Because honestly, the stuff he says, it’s not just critical, it’s petty and narrow-viewed. He seems to base the condemnation on her inept use of language, which implies both that there is only one way to write, one kind of language to use, and that everyone who does not write with Nabokovian complexity should be drawn and quartered.

        The FUNNY thing about this is that, in this piece,, the writer mentions that Giraldi himself has written a novel, and provides a link to the bad review given to it by the same paper. Giraldi does not come off very well himself. Given that he is pretty much accused of burdening his characters with too much weighty language and not enough person, it seems rather like sour grapes for him to accuse Ohlin’s work of being “emotionally untrue.” This bit is what really made me dismiss him out of hand. I can see his point in the beginning about the things that bugged him about the language, I mean, I sometimes get annoyed enough by repetition or unimaginative language, but actually that’s not going to make the difference – if I like the writing in general, and the content, that stuff will disappear. And in the case of Signs and Wonders (which I think he said did not annoy him as much with language as with all the deaths and pregnancies – he may have missed the idea of themed collections!), I liked the stories themselves SO much that they could buy themselves a good bit of carte blanche for the kind of language things he mentioned. I mean, I didn’t love all the stories the same – and if we talk about this later I would love to go into more depth – but the first few stories hit to the heart so strongly and shiningly that all I can think about Giraldi (based on the few things I know about him) is that he just doesn’t really know anything at all about emotional truth. Which is too bad for him, as a writer and maybe as a person too. But I don’t think Alix Ohlin has to worry about that.

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