Thirteen glittering, surprising, and darkly funny stories of people testing the boundaries of their lives, from two-time Scotiabank Giller Prize finalist Alix Ohlin.
In the mordantly funny “Money, Geography, Youth,” Vanessa arrives home from a gap year volunteering in Ghana to find that her father is engaged to her childhood best friend. Unable to reconcile the girl she went to dances with in the eighth grade and the woman in her father’s bed, Vanessa turns to a different old friendship for her own, unique diversion. In the subversive “The Brooks Brothers Guru,” Amanda drives to upstate New York to rescue her gawky cousin from a cult, only to discover clean-cut, well-dressed men living in a beautiful home, discussing the classics and drinking cocktails, moving her to wonder what freedoms she might be willing to trade for a life of such elegant comfort. And in “The Universal Particular,” Tamar welcomes her husband’s young stepcousin into her home, only to find her cool suburban life knocked askew in ways she cannot quite understand.
Populated with imperfect families, burned potential, and inescapable old flames, the stories in We Want What We Want are, each one, diamond-sharp — sparkling with pain, humour, and beauty.
About the author
ALIX OHLIN is the author of four books, including the novels Inside, which was a finalist for the Scotiabank Giller Prize and the Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize, and Dual Citizens, which was longlisted for the Scotiabank Giller Prize. Her work has appeared in The New Yorker, Tin House, Best American Short Stories, and many other publications. Born and raised in Montreal, she lives in Vancouver, where she chairs the creative writing program at the University of British Columbia.
- Short-listed, Atwood Gibson Writers' Trust Fiction Prize
- Short-listed, Lambda Literary Award for Bisexual Fiction
Excerpt: We Want What We Want (by (author) Alix Ohlin)
from THE BROOKS BROTHERS GURU
John Lorimer wants to be friends on Facebook.
Amanda isn’t sure whether to accept. It’s a long night like any other, her bedroom blue-lit by devices, laptop and phone and iPad scattered on the comforter, earbuds nestled as she listens to Songwriters/Folk on Pandora; this is how she goes to sleep. She has three or four windows open on the computer; she’s watching a movie and reading reviews of it at the same time.
They have zero mutual friends.
In his profile picture, John stands, left knee bent, hands on hips, on a rock rising jaggedly from the ocean like a broken tooth. His short haircut looks military, his posture commendably rigid. He smiles like he’s never been happier. Amanda’s own picture shows a cartoon cat with its back rounded, fur up. She doesn’t like to give too much away. In John’s square jaw and dark brown hair she can barely make out traces of the gawky cousin she last saw — when, exactly? It would have been that summer in Virginia, when they were sixteen, both of their mothers sucking down gin-and-tonics as if alcohol were oxygen — years ago. Then John’s mother died, then hers, sisters so close they succumbed to the same disease within a year. The funerals were blurred and washy to her; when she tries to remember them, she can summon only feverish sweat and a churn in her stomach, no visuals at all.
Now she spends summer vacations with her father’s family in Delaware, those cheerful extended relatives with healthy genetic history and aged grandmothers and aunts, a family where nobody knows what BRCA stands for, where nobody has been getting yearly mammograms since they were twenty.
She doesn’t think they look alike. She confirms his request.
Alix Ohlin is a magician. It’s not just that the stories are — individually and collectively — stunning; it’s that she makes it look so easy.
Ohlin’s stories have a quiet elegance to them and a restraint, although they’re filled, too, with grief and with loss … The book is a pleasure to behold … A wry and moving collection that supplies no easy, unearned endings.
The collection explore[s] desire and grief through a finely drawn and eclectic cast of characters ... Ohlin’s sly irony leavens the aching plights of characters for whom closure is unattainable.
New York Times Book Review
This cunning writer yanks you inside her world.
San Francisco Chronicle
[Ohlin] has a rare gift for examining the confusions of the 21st century, exploring the ways in which addictions, afflictions, attractions, and random impulses shape our lives.
With language intensely evocative and keenly focused on the nuances that define each of us as individuals, Ohlin delves into the lives of her characters — even in her shortest pieces — and reveals a depth to them, a poignancy, that is deeply affecting.
Ohlin’s characters are so genuine you’ll be reminded of people you know, love and hate. For better or worse, you may even see yourself in the pages.
Every story in this exquisite collection is a gem full of startling surprises and insights into human nature. The collection demands and rewards repeated readings, the better to savour Ohlin’s near magical ability to achieve such depth with seemingly plain language and plotting. Ohlin packs entire lives into mere pages, allowing readers to join the flow of fully realized, complex scenarios whose key moments exude the inevitable open-endedness of real life. These stories bring us into the company of people who want what we all want: to connect, to matter, to heal, and to cross into unfamiliar territory, hoping that the risk will be worthwhile.
Atwood Gibson Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize Jury Citation
Calling all fans of Lorrie Moore, Deborah Eisenberg, and Robin Black: You have a new favourite writer.
Glittering ... Shot through with dark humor and keen powers of observation, this collection probes our contradictions with incisive clarity.
There’s no shortage of phrases, sentences, and paragraphs to savour on every page … The elegant stories are delectable, electric, and clever … An exceptional, satisfying reading experience.
Another rich collection full of insights and sticky contradictions … Ohlin reveals the depth of her characters with empathy and precision … More than worth the price of admission.
Ohlin’s slyly humorous and devastatingly sensuous collection of short fiction shines a brilliant light on women’s inchoate desires.