Alix Ohlin at Skylight Books

OK, I’ve been bad lately about getting to my monthly literary calendar. As in: I haven’t posted one for nearly a year. Sorry. And thanks to those who missed my posts and inquired.

I nearly got my act together earlier this month because I wanted to help promote Steve Almond‘s appearance at Skylight Books with his new story collection God Bless America (which includes “Donkey Greedy, Donkey Gets Punched,” featured in the most recent Best American Short Stories). And now comes along one of my very favorite short story writers, Alix Ohlin, appearing tomorrow (June 21, 7:30) at Skylight Books with both a new novel and a new story collection. I discovered Ohlin in the 2005 edition of Best American Short Stories–her story “Simple Exercises for the Beginning Student” is a small miracle. I then went on to read and review her collection Babylon & Other Stories.

Ohlin’s new collection, Signs and Wonders, is drawing praise from the likes of Joy Williams, Richard Bausch and Jim Shepard. And the new novel, Inside, was just named Book of the Week by none other than Oprah. She’s deservedly getting a lot of press these days, including this nice write-up in The Globe and Mail. Along with Richard Ford, she was featured earlier this week on the new Los Angeles Review of Books show on KCRW.


Alix Ohlin (2)

I posted previously about Alix Ohlin’s amazing short story, “Simple Exercises for the Beginning Student,” and vowed to read and review the collection it’s from, Babylon and Other Stories. Well, finally, here is my review, in the April issue of The Short Review. This is a wonderful collection. Buy it at Powell’s or from you local independent bookseller.

Some Alix Ohlin interviews, and other odds & ends:

  • a short interview at Hobart
  • and a longer interview at, which includes this fascinating metaphor: “When I’m writing I often think of the character as being underwater at the beginning of the story, and the action of the story is that character breaking the surface.”
  • at, her reflections on Greg Hollingshead’s The Roaring Girl
  • a video of a talk she gave in 2007 as part of the Zocalo Public Square lecture series, called “Why Mysteries Matter: Detectives, Literature & Life” (it’s 53 minutes long, so wait until you have the time).

Ohlin is previously the author of a novel, The Missing Person.

Alix Ohlin

Sometimes you go a while without reading a story that takes your breath away, and it’s only when you come upon one again that you realize how long it’s been. Alix Ohlin’s “Simple Exercises for the Beginning Student” (included in the 2005 Best American Short Stories anthology, and originally published in Swink) is such a story for me, and I needed it. It’s from her collection Babylon & Other Stories; she is also the author of a novel, The Missing Person. Some other stories from the collection are on-line, and a couple I read are not as strong. But in the library I read another very good one, “Land of the Midnight Sun,” and that’s enough to convince me to order the book from Powell’s and check out the whole thing.

“Simple Exercises…” gets away with the kind of thing I’m trying, as a writer, to get away from. (More later on the dilemma of the ‘quiet’ short story.) It’s an extremely quiet story that charts a small movement in its two main characters. The story’s achievement is that when that movement comes it’s startling. The smallest distance traveled can feel huge in the right hands. It’s also a very musical story, appropriate given its topic, piano lessons. Ohlin introduces a certain motif early on and when she reprises it later it takes your breath away. Or it did mine. I read and write for those moments, so thank you, Alix Ohlin (pronounced o-lean).

A final note: The music blog Largehearted Boy runs an occasional Book Note feature in which authors are asked to come up with a playlist for their latest work. Read Ohlin’s Babylon playlist HERE.

Published in: on July 5, 2008 at 2:15 pm  Comments (1)  
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