Reviewed by Menaka Raman-Wilms
Inside by Alix Ohlin is a book that explores human connection. It’s about how people relate to, and form bonds with one another, and sometimes how they fail to do so.
The novel is a collection of interwoven stories, separated out in chapters. Most of these chapters primarily revolve around the character Grace, a therapist living in Montreal. Several people move in and out of Grace’s life, and their stories are explored over time. They include Mitch, Grace’s ex-husband, who works to both maintain and run from his relationships, as well as Annie, one of Grace’s young patients, who tries to separate her adult life from the one she knew as a kid. And then there’s the man that Grace came across while skiing, while he was in the process of trying to commit suicide. All of these characters enter and re-enter the story, each time in a slightly different light.
The book is well written and an intriguing read. It provides a glimpse into the lives of these individuals, which is both satisfying and illuminating. In this sense, Inside can be seen as a series of vignettes that revolve around characters playing parts in each other’s lives. As a result, it explores how people grow and adapt in response to those around them, and the profound impact someone can have on somebody else.
The book also looks at how nobody really stays the same for any length of time, but rather how they change as a result of their life circumstances. This is reinforced by the fact that the stories often move back and forth in time. Although this jump in time can sometimes be slightly confusing, it allows for characters to simultaneously be understood as more than one definite individual. For example, two segments tell the story of different stages of Grace’s life, and because the novel goes back and forth between them, the reader learns the details of both parts at similar times. This allows aspects of Grace’s character to remain mysterious, and also allows for connections to be made between the segments. It also serves to emphasize the fluid nature of human interaction, and the difficulty with narrowing someone down. The book seems to suggest that everyone is always changing, and so perhaps someone can never really know another person.
In essence, the novel is about how the inside of a person is forever elusive to another. Yet, Inside also hints at the innate desire in most people to want to understand another person, and have them understand you. That desire for connection is ultimately what drives the stories in this book.
Inside was published in 2012 by House of Anansi Press.