Book Review: Signs and Wonders

signsandwonders

I agree with the reviewers who described this collection of sixteen short stories as a gift. And I would also describe the stories as gifts of unexpected love, love that does not appear in its usual wrappers.

While Alix Ohlin’s conflicted characters are struggling to make sense of their relationships, they are surprised to discover love in situations they thought they would never choose or even welcome into their lives.

In the title story, the protagonist suddenly realizes she hates her husband of 26 years. Ready to divorce him, an unfortunate accident turns her well-orchestrated life upside down, forcing her to face the prospect of tending him indefinitely.

While sitting in a hospital waiting room with her daughter and the second wife, a divorced woman discovers she still has feelings for her ex-husband.

Reena agrees to accompany her aunt on “The Cruise,” a post-divorce ritual that unleashes a torrent of feelings.

After connecting with the one who got away in “Who Do You Love?” Janet re-examines all her relationships and reaches an unexpected conclusion.

Alix Ohlin is gifted storyteller with an amazing eye for detail. Some of my favorite descriptions…

“She’d gotten married in a flurry of sex and promises, wearing a white dress so hideously confectionary that she felt like a parody of herself, a joke told in crinoline and lace, and even that made her happy, because it was silly and she knew they’d laugh about it later.”

“Our boss, Eric, was an elderly bohemian who wore pilled woolen cardigans and too-short pants, and spent afternoons in his office reading manuscripts while twirling his beard between his thumb and index finger, making a little curl that stood out from his chin. By five o’clock his beard would be a tufted mess of curls, all fluffed out like the feathers of some preening bird. Because of this, Sarah and I called him the titmouse.”

Inside by Alix Ohlin

The novel starts on a tragic note.

Grace, a female therapist, finds a man half buried in the snow. Having bungled his suicide, Tug breathes a heavy sigh as Grace rescues him. Later, Grace develops feelings for this charismatic stranger and pursues him.

In the meantime, her troubled patient, Annie, runs away from home and reinvents herself as an actress in New York. The beautiful and self-involved Annie ends up befriending a young, pregnant runaway who takes willingly and gives little in return.

Mitch, Grace’s ex-husband, leaves the stifling comfort of Montreal for Iqualuit, a place where “he felt the gorgeous pleasure of being away. No matter what happened here, for good or bad, it wasn’t home, and there was a luxurious freedom in that.” Unfortunately, more bad than good did happen as Mitch struggled to help an adolescent dealing with a family tragedy.

As the lives of these three people intersect in unexpected ways over the course of ten years, we learn what it means to be a Good Samaritan and the emotional complications that can result.  As these characters search for approval and validation,  they question their choices and  eventually discover why it’s so important to help each other. Often, it felt like I was reading a series of linked short stories in different times and locations. But in spite of the changing POVs and broken-time sequence, the narrative flowed smoothly.

An excellent read and worthy of the Giller long-list nomination.