Alix Ohlin grew up in Montréal and graduated from Harvard University (BA 1992) and went on to earn an MFA from the University of Texas. Her writing is marked by a sharp wit that lends relief to her exploration of the sadness inherent in contemporary life.
Ohlin's first collection of short fiction, Babylon and Other Stories (2005), opens with "King of Kohlrabi," which presents Aggie, a 16 year old girl, and her view of the summer her parents separated. Shelving her plans to start a punk-rock girl band, she goes to work for an enigmatic testing laboratory where "everybody was hiding from something or somebody." With a balanced blend of humour and compassion, the collection reveals young people growing quickly to fill the vacuum troubled adults leave when their flailing connections threaten ordered lives.
Missing Person (2007), Ohlin's first novel, introduces Lynn, a graduate student resolved to find her missing brother, Wylie, a solitary eco-warrior who has not been in contact with family for months. Leaving New York for her childhood home of Albuquerque, Lynn encounters Angus Beam, Wylie's friend. He speaks eloquently about his new model of composting toilets that will "make our current plumbing equipment... seem as grotesque and outdated as the... streets of the middle ages," yet remains suspiciously silent on Wylie. Drawing together themes of alienation and the human waste it creates, Ohlin presents individuals struggling with experiences both universal and unique.
The short-fiction collection Signs and Wonders (2012) is crafted with language that surprises yet instantly creates moments of recognition. Never without compassion, Ohlin presents characters on the brink of disconnection, steeped in confusion and quickly disoriented when plans are frustrated. In the title story, Kathleen and Terence are a professional couple who teach at the same college. Miserable at 49, Kathleen comes to realize she hates Terence. One Sunday afternoon she "spoke, for the first time in years, with genuine affection. 'Honey,' she said, 'let's get divorced.'" They amicably plan the demise of their marriage until Terence is thrown into a coma following a car hijacking. Ohlin's writing delivers deftly drawn characters that move through chaos to arrive at a place of resignation and, occasionally, grace.
Inside (2012), Ohlin's second novel, is set in Montréal, Kigali and the high Arctic. It opens as therapist Grace Tomlinson, skiing at dusk, discovers John Tugwell, who has tried to hang himself. Feeling surprisingly obligated, she becomes entangled in his complicated life. Their narrative is twined with that of Grace's ex-husband Mitch, who departs for a distant and despairing town in the Arctic, leaving his vulnerable lover Martine. Ohlin's susceptible characters stumble into dark places, emerging changed and fulfilled in ways they would never have imagined, but which Ohlin imagines with wise wit and honest humanity. Inside was shortlisted for the 2012 Scotiabank Giller Prize and the 2012 Rogers Writers' Trust Fiction Prize.
Alix Ohlin's fiction has been featured in Best New American Voices 2004 and Best American Short Stories 2005, and has appeared in magazines including the Atlantic Monthly. She lives in Easton, Pennsylvania and teaches at Lafayette College.