Saturday, September 02, 2006

Alix Ohlin's Babylon and Other Stories

Alix Ohlin has a new book out, Babylon and Other Stories, and I just this evening finished reading the final story. Wow. Now I'm ready to read her novel, The Missing Person, newly arrived in paperback, originally published in 2005. Ohlin's understanding of the undercurrents of terror and misery is pitch perfect. Her characters are varied and unpredictable and believable. Her plots are surprising and inevitable. What a pleasure!

Here's the beginning of the first story, "The King of Kohlrabi:"

It was a summer of disasters. I was sixteen and just starting to relax fully into my vacation when my father took my mother and me out to dinner at the New Chinatown and told us over the King Pao chicken that he'd fallen in love with his law partner, Margaret, and the two of them were "going away for a while" to "sort things out." While he was talking, he twisted a corner of the tablecloth into a ring in his right hand.

My mother, leaning back in the corner of the booth, said, "Oh, for crying out loud." She sounded annoyed. She was drinking a Mai Tai, as usual, and had given me the umbrella, also as usual. Tonight's was blue and I twirled it between my fingers. I was always pleasantly surprised that it really opened and closed, just like a real umbrella. I stuck it into a piece of my chicken and moved some baby carrots and water chestnuts into an arrangement around it, like small, edible patio furniture. No one said anything. I stared at the couple at the table next to us, who were sharing a Volcano, holidng hands over the blue flame in the center of it. They saw me looking and loosed their hands as if they were embarrassed.



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