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15 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A lovely book.
I will let others describe the plot, and say that, quite simply, I loved this book. Maybe this is an old complaint, but I think a lot of books marketed as literature these days are word-clever, but lack emotional pitch or complexity. As Nabokov noted of Chekov, Alix Ohlin has given us a picnic basket and a wriggling puppy besides.

I guess lately I've become...
Published on July 7, 2012 by Jessie R.

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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Full of cliches about therapists
I didn't like `Inside' at all. The writing is clunky, full of banalities, flowery metaphors, platitudes and clichés (am I repeating myself here?), particularly about what Ohlin imagines is the private life of therapists. E.g. she can't resist the tired idea that therapists are crazier than their patients or the ridiculous idea that all therapists do in their...
Published 21 months ago by Cassandra


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15 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A lovely book., July 7, 2012
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
This review is from: Inside (Borzoi Books) (Hardcover)
I will let others describe the plot, and say that, quite simply, I loved this book. Maybe this is an old complaint, but I think a lot of books marketed as literature these days are word-clever, but lack emotional pitch or complexity. As Nabokov noted of Chekov, Alix Ohlin has given us a picnic basket and a wriggling puppy besides.

I guess lately I've become tired of reading about failed men and women, worn and regretful divorcees. So I was grateful that, although those character types exist in "Inside", Ohlin allows them to inhabit some qualities of that role as well as transcend it and achieve a sense of, forgive the pun, grace. Because that's what this book is about, one of the things, anyway, the recognition and acceptance of another's complete personhood, failures and wrong turns included, the only thing that sustains us in the long run.

I was so taken in with Ohlin's writing that I was sad when I realized that Grace, the eponymous protagonist, doesn't exist in the real world because I loved her character so. Then I got the sense that somewhere out there, a Grace does exist, and Ohlin has just put her on paper rather than the other way around.

My highest recommendation.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars a must-read, June 8, 2012
By 
E. Stafford (Somerville, MA) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Inside (Borzoi Books) (Hardcover)
I love all of Alix Ohlin's writing--from her first collection of stories, Babylon and Other Stories, to her first novel, The Missing Person. But Inside is my favorite work of hers to date.

Inside is aptly titled given that Ohlin has a preternatural ability to penetrate her characters' minds and hearts. This, even more than Ohlin's gorgeous prose and carefully crafted plot, is the reason to read Inside. As Ohlin maps out the lives of her disparate characters--from an up-and-coming actress in New York and L.A. to a former relief worker in Rwanda--she makes visible the inner workings of absolute strangers. (I say strangers because as I read Inside, I began to feel that Ohlin's characters were actually real people I didn't use to know and now do.) In making visible what is dim at best in others, Ohlin offers the possibility that this kind of seeing may not be an impossible feat--and that we therefore may also see others, and be seen, with an eye not just to the specific form our troubles have taken but also to our kinship.

When reading Inside, I was reminded of D.H. Lawrence's "Odour of Chrysanthemums," in which a woman, when presented with her husband's corpse, confronts the reality that she never really knew him--the implication being that we can never really know another. 'Was this what it all meant - utter, intact separateness, obscured by heat of living? In dread, she turned her face away." Inside is so beautiful because Ohlin doesn't turn away.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars To Do Good for Others, August 23, 2012
By 
Rolf Yngve (San Diego, Salt Lake City, Rome) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Inside (Borzoi Books) (Hardcover)
What are our intentions? What do we hope we are doing for others? What comes of our good intentions?

Alix Ohlin's novel is an extraordinary work written about one of the great human instincts, to help another human being. And it is written about the failures caregivers must experience, the strange, dark corner within us all that causes us to injure those who care for us best. It is a novel about emotional betrayal, insensitivity, and the courage of those who continue to care for others despite the damage done to them. And, in the midst of this, it is a novel about hope.

The story is told in a broken-time sequence that is expertly woven between four characters. Annie is a self-lacerating, ferociously self-involved adolescent who finds herself grown up to be an actress in New York caring for a young, pregnant runaway who is detestably self-involved as Annie ever had been. Grace, Annie's former therapist, finds her faith in herself destroyed by Annie, Annie's parents, and the third character, Tug. Tug is a perfectly rendered victim of the massive failure of caregiving experienced by those who must try to help the victims of genocide. Finally, Mitch, the husband Annie rejected, is rejected again and again by those who `employ' him to provide care for their children and themselves.

These intertwined lives are suffused with failure in their attempts to care for and love others. Yet the wisdom and depth of Ohlin's novel is achieved through a fundamental truth that seems completely evident to the reader, yet just beyond the reach of the characters themselves. That truth? Personal commitment and sacrifice can be their own reward.

But do we really believe this? Ohlin tests our belief in human goodness at every corner. Good people in this book are also cruel, cruel people are good. They struggle with the tension we all experience between the needs of others and the needs of oneself. Each of them fails, each succeeds. Ohlin holds up human nature like a jewel for us to examine, then illuminates this examination with wisdom and unswerving sensitivity.

In a literary world that seems populated with characters - and authors and critics - who are driven and fascinated by the sociopathic and perverse, Ohlin grips me with her vision of imperfect lives made more whole through integrity, honesty and courage. This book is indeed the literature Pound was talking about, "Language charged with meaning." An exceptional mind and beautiful philosophy suffuses this book; its language presents a clean and articulate representation of that mind.

There have been a number of critical reviews of this book in the mainstream press. I am frankly surprised at the virulence and anger reflected in these reviews. They are rather extraordinarily cruel. I can't imagine what would cause anyone to eviscerate this book in such a violent manner. Unless, perhaps, the critical community can't stand the notion of a book written with such delicacy, verve and optimism about those whose intentions are to do good for others-- as opposed to gaining position or wealth for themselves.

Perhaps the critical community can't stand a model of selflessness and integrity, a model that rises above cynicism, the fake irony of a snarky tone, the self-aggrandizements and cruelty of an Ayn Rand philosophy. Ironically, Ohlin's novel argues against such speculation. Ohlin's novel tells us that humans, real humans, will try to do good.

Read this book. It's a wonder of thought, well-paced, and well-told. Read it for the delight of reading, but read it also because this book has charged the academic-literary community with the need to examine itself. Read it, then read all the bad reviews you can find to see if the main-stream critical community has indeed become emotionally and intellectually bereft in the isolated, over-empowered, invincible cloud-cuckoo-land of academic literary journals and mainstream book reviews.

And if you don't feel like thinking about critics or the academic community, then read it because it will leave you satisfied, mystified, and content with the world Alix Ohlin reveals to us. Our world, the real world. The one with real consequences.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars characters that entice you to stay inside, August 9, 2012
By 
I was immediately drawn into the story: Grace, a female therapist, finds a handsome man half buried in the snow. He has attempted to hang himself. She saves his life.

The tangle of characters that are connected to Grace weaves a nice web for the reader. It becomes one of those books that one can't seem to put down . . . even in the middle, which I found dragged a bit, one is pulled toward the end, wondering what will become of these characters. And for this reason I was thankful that the novel wasn't too long. While the characters are variegated, I found their unhappiness a bit suffocating at times.

Overall, the reader will enjoy the journey of these characters, especially Anne the actress, who was my favorite, and who, for me, really kept me reading. But I believe different personalities will relate to other characters more, and this makes for a successful book.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Must read, July 5, 2012
This review is from: Inside (Borzoi Books) (Hardcover)
Wonderful book! Once started I could not put it down.
Alix Ohlin has beautifully written about the Human Condition, the innate tendency in all of us towards the "Gute Gestalt" and the courage it takes to begin "Der Weg Nach Innen".
I look forward to reading everything that Alix writes and wish her the best on her life's journey.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Full of cliches about therapists, May 28, 2013
By 
I didn't like `Inside' at all. The writing is clunky, full of banalities, flowery metaphors, platitudes and clichés (am I repeating myself here?), particularly about what Ohlin imagines is the private life of therapists. E.g. she can't resist the tired idea that therapists are crazier than their patients or the ridiculous idea that all therapists do in their everyday life is analyse whoever they see, with no professional boundaries whatsoever and with an urge to rescue people whenever they get a chance. Or, the cliché of clichés, that therapists don't fall in love with their patients...well, until they do, when that `special one' changes them forever, all rules and boundaries out of the window.

I was (regretfully, as I now see it) drawn to the subject matter of `Inside'. I thought the book explores the counsellor's or therapist's point of view, which interested me as it touches on my own profession. The description of the book: three characters, three points in time--1996 Montreal; 2002 New York City; then 2006 Montreal again. One, Grace, a psychiatrist (or a therapist? Or a counsellor? Or a psychologist? Not clear). The second, Anne, a struggling actress and ex-teenage runaway / self-harmer / patient of Grace. The third, Mitch, a counsellor (or therapist? Or psychiatrist? or social worker? Again not clear!).

The book, in fact, doesn't explore the thoughts and associations of the main characters, and when it does the reader wishes it didn't. Mitch and Grace happen to be therapists (or counsellors...etc.) but I wouldn't know it from Ohlin's bland descriptions if it wasn't spelled out. Their behaviour is, at best, unaware, immature, self-centred and impulsive; at worst, destructive and utterly unprofessional. (Hilarious note: a therapist telling a self-harming / suicidal adolescent patient to `imagine herself as a famous actress and guess what the actress would do when she feels bad, and then do exactly that'). One wonders what sort of psychotherapy training these people had?! Whatever.

The book tries hard to point out some `meaningful messages' which is always a bad idea, particularly when it's obvious to the reader that he/she is doing so. Ohlin also introduces a whole series of `serious' topics: rape, homelessness, the Rwanda genocide, self-harm, suicide, clinical depression, abortion, birth, death, suicide (again!), the loss of a parent, a dangerous car crash and various other misfortunes, as if just telling a straightforward story is beyond her grasp. Phew--I'm exhausted just making the list, let alone having read the actual book.

One to skip.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Inside the human mind, September 8, 2012
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This review is from: Inside (Kindle Edition)
Three stories, three characters. The three of them show us how the human mind and heart are complex and profound.
This is a book written almost as a collection of short stories that are all intertwined with each other, and that present us with the doubts and fears we all have and how we act upon them, mainly because we seek love through approval, attention and validation. But we all end up discovering that we have to go deep inside, to know ourselves, to understand ourselves in order to find the source of Love.
Deep, sometimes somber and sad, others full of hope, a great novel worth reading.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Ehh...it was just OK, I guess, June 21, 2013
I listened to this as an audiobook (which was very well-narrated). Despite all the critical acclaim and positive customer reviews, I just didn't think the story was that great. It was semi-interesting to hear about the lives of these 4 people from their different points of view, complete with some emotionally challenging situations and very vivid descriptions of their feelings during such, but nothing much ever really happened or changed with them...they pretty well stayed stuck in their damaged, stunted behavior patterns without ever transcending the difficult circumstances that either made them that way or offered them opportunities for growth. Most (other than Grace, the therapist) were fairly unlikeable in one way or another, and it was kind of hard for me to care what happened to them.

**Spoiler alert** the only major change or event was one of the characters committing suicide, but unfortunately we are never allowed direct access to this particular character's thoughts. He's very closed off and enigmatic to others in the story, so clues to what really makes him tick were frustratingly sparse. I found myself searching hard for the point of this book, and maybe that was it -- that survivors are often left wondering what insights they missed after a loved one kills himself; or that despite all best efforts to help heal mentally ill or emotionally broken people, sometimes it just doesn't work.

I can appreciate beautiful writing as art for its own sake, but while this book had some of that, it didn't seem enough to serve as sole justification for why it was written. I have a very long attention span and consider myself fairly intelligent, but maybe I'm just too linear or not "literary" enough...all in all I felt only mildly entertained, and I was glad when this book ended so I could go on to something with a little more satisfying plot progression.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars 3 and 1/2 Bores, May 22, 2013
Three and a half boring characters, and one potentially interesting character. The characters, whether full or half, center around a female therapist, Grace, who has no personal awareness and makes life choices as though she were unconscious: saves a stranger from suicide and then follows him around, persisting until he acquiesces to a relationship of sorts (by virtue of her constant presence) then is thrown for a loop when he actually succeeds in killing himself. (The preceding single sentence actually makes the fact more interesting than it was in the book.)

The suicidal boyfriend of sorts, Tug, is apparently suicidal because of the horrors that he saw as a UN aid worker abroad. The facts listed that he saw are certainly awful, and they are said to be the reason for his suicide: he couldn't take it. This is the extent of the character development of Tug, the half character. Side note: this is really annoying because Tug supposedly is suicidal because of his UN aid worker experience. Many UN aid workers and others who witness horrors, do not kill themselves. So why did Tug kill himself? What were his real issues? He made the the horrors that he saw the reason for his depression, which is selfish and lacks awareness. He sat around moping, doing nothing about the violence that he saw, and made it about him, rather than looking at his real issues. (Again, that somehow sounds more interesting here than it was in the book, I suppose because neither Tug, nor Grace the therapist saw this.)

Mitch, therapist ex-husband of Grace. Seems like he is on Valium or something. Totally numb and emotionally dead -- and not in a interesting way. His most interesting act is to be "happy" when he is told that he is useless on the phone by a young woman, because he believes the anonymous call is in reference to the suicide of an obviously deeply troubled teen Mitch failed to help (or even try to help). That "happiness" is Mitch's main event.

Anne, teen patient of Graces and then runaway actress. The most interesting character, and by most interesting, I mean moderately interesting. The book is finished with Anne as soon as her character begins development.The book should have been about Anne, with a brief mention of Grace (only because she was Anne's therapist) and no Tug or Mitch or genocide.
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6 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars deep character study, June 5, 2012
This review is from: Inside (Borzoi Books) (Hardcover)
In 1996, Grace Tomlinson, a dedicated therapist, is cross country skiing on Mount Royal when she trips over a man who tried to hang himself. She calls 911 and he is taken to Montreal General. She follows and learns his name is John Tugwell and offers to listen to him. After he tells authorities it was a lover's prank with his girlfriend Grace that went bad, she takes him home and insists on staying to insure he does not try again.

Her sixteen years old patient Annie Hardwick is a cutter who feels ugly and fears telling her perfect parents she is pregnant. To help her with her woes, Grace tells her to pretend to be an actress in various roles. However, Annie plans to run away to New York where she will become an actress at any cost without any relationships as she knows they always cut.

Meanwhile Grace's ex-husband Mitch the therapist decides to head to the Arctic to help a native village struggling to survive in the harsh conditions. He leaves behind in Montreal the woman he cherishes.

This character study focuses on four Canadians connected by Grace over several years and locales including Rwanda. Each of the protagonists is unique with flaws that drive them at times to react excessively. The two therapists feel "reaching out into the darkness" to a friend and lover is why they chose their profession as a boost to their ego; while the two patients feel their self-esteem crumble whenever they accept the reaching out offer of help. Insightful and thought provoking, codependency can prove emotionally dangerous to the transmitter and the receiver.

Harriet Klausner
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Inside (Borzoi Books)
Inside (Borzoi Books) by Alix Ohlin (Hardcover - June 5, 2012)
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