Top positive review
15 of 15 people found this helpful
Grace in the gray zones of human nature
on September 6, 2012
Alix Ohlin is a writer born in Montreal, now living in Pennsylvania. She has been praised by Nobel Prize winner J.M. Coetzee as "a skillful storyteller, quick-witted and wry."
The novel opens with a striking scene of Grace experiencing sudden disorientation on a wintry Mount Royal in Montreal:
"Now, at the end of January, it had finally snowed all night and all day, at last enough to ski on. She slipped around the Chalet and headed into the woods, losing the vista of Montreal below, gaining muffled silence and solitude, the trees turning the light even fainter. One skier had been here before her, leaving a path of parallel stripes. On a slight downhill slope she crouched down and picked up speed as she moved around a bend.
Turning, she saw the branch or whatever it was too late. Though she tried to slow down, she wasn't quick enough and ran right into it and was knocked out of her skis, falling sideways into the snow, realizing only when she sat up that what had tripped her was the body of a man.
The air torn from her returned slowly, painfully, to her burning lungs. When she could breathe she said, `Are you all right?' There was no answer (...) Kneeling down to check his pulse, she saw the rope around his neck. Thick and braided, it trailed beneath him, almost nestled under his arm, and the other end rested on a snowbank - no, was buried underneath it - and on the other side she could see that the branch it had been tied to had broken off."
Inside follows up on this engaging opening scene of attempted suicide with the story of four characters - Grace, a therapist, and 3 others who are - or have been - connected closely to her.
"Grace" is a clever choice of name for the protagonist, because grace is in fact a central theme in the book. How uplifting it can be, but also how accidental, arbitrary, and ultimately inseparable from the gray zones and mixed motives that constitute human nature.