I had a brief affair with a therapist. It was odd, talking about your problems while knowing that everything you said was in some way reflecting your insides, there were times that it made me want to fabricate things, exaggerate or diminish or make up entirely. I missed some appointments and then I stopped going altogether, I guess we’ll never know what’s wrong with me. That’s strangely comforting; my mysteries are intact. I guess I just don’t want to be figured out.
Alix Ohlin’s new novel Inside (out June 2012) has a handful of characters and quickly you realize that the common thread they share is Grace, a sincere therapist who can’t seem to get through to the people who matter most. First there is Anne, a self-harmer who keeps Grace at arms’ length and then runs away to New York where she becomes a ruthless actress. Then there’s the strangely alluring man Grace finds on a ski mountain, broken after a suicide-attempt. Finally, her ex-husband who, also a therapist, has patient problems of his own.
Each character is a mystery. Even being able to read the story through their perspective you don’t feel any closer or understand them any better than Grace does herself. There are some things that are kept hidden, even from the reader. What happened to Anne that makes her unable to relate to anyone? When she takes in a struggling homeless teen it’s hard not to excuse her mooching because at least she cares—in some small way—about someone, right? Who cares that the one person she has become attached to is using her, it’s better than nothing. Or is it?
It’s difficult to not feel a bit like a therapist yourself while reading Inside, attempting to diagnose each character. Grace has a saviour-complex, Anne is classic sociopath, Tug—the suicidal skier—is a pathological liar or has PTSD, or both. What about Mitch, the ex-husband? Oh, Mitch? He’s just an asshole.
The untangling of narratives, in time and by perspective feels like good, worthy work here. Where other authors might fail, Ohlin excels, keeping each story engrossing in its own separate way. The writing is sharp, flecked with details that catch your attention like a lure, just a few pages and you’re hooked.
It’s a good thing they sent along Signs and Wonders (Ohlin’s new short story collection) with it, I’m not quite ready to let go of her writing quite yet.
Reel it in.
I wonder what my old therapist would think about that.