Monday, June 24, 2013

Signs and Wonders

Signs and Wonders
Alix Ohlin

“A fleeting but immeasurable sense of rightness of the world.”

Signs and Wonders
is a collection of love stories: love that is so hidden by daily vexations that we don’t notice it; love that comes back unexpectedly when we think it’s gone; love for people we thought we didn’t like; desperate love that makes us do crazy things. Sometimes love comes without our awareness—we don’t always choose the people we love.

In the title story, a woman’s best friend is someone she thought she hated; in “Stepmother’s Story,” a woman realizes how much she can sacrifice for her stepson. A man grieving his wife’s death finds love with someone he didn’t expect in “The Teacher.” A divorced woman surprises herself with her reaction to her ex-husband’s accident in “Three Little Maids.” In “The Assistants,” a woman realizes the significance of her feelings for a co-worker years after they have separated.

Often the stories are about mundane lives of ordinary people when revelations come in a crisis—when someone dies, gets sick, disappears, or has an accident. However, the stories are never predictable. There are a few stories that are less credible, such as when a wife jeopardizes her marriage to have a baby in “Robbing the Cradle,” or when a woman gets dangerously close to adultery to better understand her husband’s love for his best friend in “You Are What You Like.” 

Alix Ohlin believes in the inherent goodness of people, and the stories, even if they end with death, are uplifting. This philosophy and similar themes can be found in her Giller-nominated novel Inside.

Most of the stories are written in a traditional form, using a precise, almost minimalistic prose. “Vigo Park,” however, is an experimental story in which the author’s voice comments on the events and plays with the idea of Chekhov’s gun ("One must not put a loaded rifle on the stage if no one is thinking of firing it.”) in a literal as well as a literary sense. The postmodern writing style prefigures that of Inside, where seemingly separate narratives, recorded achronologically, connect together in the readers’ minds as they read the novel.

- Kasia Jaronczyk

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