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10th Grade202432 Stories4th of July99 DaysA Change in AltitudeA Demon in My ViewA Dream of WolvesA Finely Tuned Apathy MachineA Heart of StoneA Life Lived RidiculouslyA Multitude of SinsA Parting GiftA Question of BloodA Quiet PlaceA Red Heart of MemoriesA River SutraA Short History of Tractors in UkrainianA Slight Trick of the MindA Stir of BonesA Thousand Miles from NowhereA Voyage Long and StrangeA Wedding in December About a BoyAbraham LincolnAcross the River and Into the TreesActs of GodAfrican PsychoAfter DarkAfter YouAfter You'd GoneAfterwardsAgenda for MurderAliens in the Prime of Their LivesAll Alone in the UniverseAll Families Are PsychoticAll in the MindAll the Way HomeAltered LandAlternatives to SexAmanda's WeddingAmelia RulesAmericaAmerica AmericaAmnesiaAmong the DepartedAn Object of BeautyAngelsAngry Youth Comix #2AnimosityAnne SextonAre You Experienced?Aristotle and Poetic JusticeAristotle DetectiveArlington ParkArtemis FowlAs Hot as It Was You Ought to Thank MeAsking For MurderAtonementAway Laughing on a Fast CamelBabylon and Other StoriesBad BoyBad SeedBag Of BonesBalancing ActsBarbara the Slut and Other PeopleBeach RoadBeat the ReaperBeautiful GirlsBed of RosesBefore I Go to SleepBefore the FrostBeg the QuestionBeginner's GreekBellyBeneath the SkinBenedictionBest New American VoicesBig BrotherBilly and GirlBiteBlack & WhiteBlack HelicoptersBlack Market TruthBlameBlanketsBleed for MeBlind SightBlonde FaithBlood, Salt, WaterBlueprints for Building Better GirlsBody SurfingBoneMan's DaughtersBoneyardBoneyardBoomsdayBorder CrossingBoth Ways Is the Only Way I Want ItBoysBracketBrain TrustBrava, ValentineBreaking Out of BedlamBreathing UnderwaterBrick LaneBridge of SighsBridget JonesBridget Jones's DiaryBrief Interviews with Hideous MenBruisesBrüselBullyBurn, Bitchy, BurnButterflyBy BloodBy The Sea ShoreCalled to KillCanadaCanvasCaricatureCase HistoriesCellCemetery DanceChange of HeartChangesChasing the DimeChild 44Cinema PanopticumCinnamon KissCircle NineCity of the LostClay's WayClose toYouClose Your EyesCloud 9 AffairCoincidenceCold CaseCold HitCold in HandCollected StoriesCome Up and See Me SometimeComfort and JoyCompulsionConfessions of a ShopaholicConfessions of an Ex-GirlfriendConsider LoveCouch FictionCrispinCross CountryCruddyCrumpleCutCypherDaddy's GirlsDakotaDamageDancing After HoursDanger in High PlacesDanger! Cross CurrentsDante's PoisonDante's WoodDarkest FearDating Without NovocaineDead BoysDead Canaries Don't SingDead EndDead EvenDeadly AdviceDeadly ButterflyDeadly GambleDeaf SentenceDear American AirlinesDear Zoe,Death of a Department ChairDeath of an AddictDeath with InterruptionsDeath Without TenureDeceitDecemberDeceptionDefending JacobDeliverance From EvilDemonologyDepraved HeartDisobedienceDisturbing GroundDivine JusticeDivisaderoDixie RoadDr. Jekyll & Mr. HydeDriftlessDuplicityEcstasyEmerald City BluesEmpire FallsEmpress of the WorldEnd over EndEven DeadlierEven Dogs in the WildEvenings at FiveEvery Visible ThingEye ContactFaking ItFalling ManFamily HistoryFascinationFat Angie Fear of the DarkFeeling Sorry for CeliaFellsideFeminist Philosophy And Science FictionFever 1793Field of BloodFinal JeopardyFlashpointFlorid StatesForgive the MoonFortunate SonFortune's RocksFour Blind MiceFour CornersFred the ClownFrom Girls to GrrlzGallatin CanyonGaudi AfternoonGenerosityGeorgia Under WaterGhost at the WindowGiftedGiganticGirl in TranslationGirl Walking BackwardsGirls Closed InGirls Like UsGod HeadGod Is DeadGod Is Not OneGods and BeastsGoldengroveGone GirlGood GriefGrace, Tamar and Laszlo the BeautifulGuises of DesireHalf In Love With DeathHappiness Sold SeparatelyHappy FamilyHappy Mutant Baby PillsHappy Now?HarleyHarry Potter and the Sorcerer’s StoneHeartbeatHeftHell's IslandHey, Wait...High HeatHolidays On IceHope in a JarHot MilkHotel on the Corner of Bitter and SweetHotel WorldHotels of North AmericaHouse of JavaHow a Gunman Says GoodbyeHow People ChangeHow to Be GoodHow to Set a Fire and WhyHug MeI Can See YouI Don't Know How She Does ItI'd Know You AnywhereIf I Fall, If I DieIf You StayImagine Me GoneImposter for HireIn ZanesvilleInfinite JestIngloriousInnocentInnocent WorldInnocentsInspired SleepInvisibleIronshoreIs This What Other Women Feel Too?It Takes OneIt's Love We Don't UnderstandIt's Not Me, It's YouJacob Have I LovedJimmy CorriganJohn Dies at the EndJournal d'une femme adultèreJust LifeKhalifahKick the Animal OutKicking the SkyKim: Empty InsideKisscutKissing DoorknobsKissing in AmericaKnockout MouseLambLast Chance SaloonLast NightLaura Numeroff's 10-Step Guide to Living with Your MonsterLawnboyLayoverLeft NeglectedLeisureLeo the Lightning BugLeslie's JournalLet Me Be Frank With YouLies My Girlfriend Told MeLife After LifeLife ClassLife Is a Strange PlaceLife of PiLike the Red PandaLike You'd Understand, AnywayLikely to DieLisa, Bright and DarkLisey's StoryListen to the SilenceLithium for MedeaLittle Black LiesLittle ChildrenLittle LitLittle ScarletLi’l SantaLonerLord of the FliesLosing JuliaLostLost GirlLost in the ForestLost Memory of SkinLove and Shame and LoveLove in the AsylumLove Songs for the Shy and CynicalLovely Green EyesLowboyLucy Sullivan Is Getting MarriedMagnificenceMaking ScenesMaliceMan and BoyMan in the WoodsManstealing for Fat GirlsMary, MaryMercy StreetMerry Christmas, Alex CrossMiddlesexMischlingMisfortuneMissing PresumedMoby DickMomma and the Meaning of LifeMonsterMonths and SeasonsMr. CommitmentMrs. DallowayMunich AirportMurder BookMurder in ByzantiumMurder in the InnMusic for TorchingMy AbandonmentMy Girlfriend Comes to the City and Beats Me UpMy Life with CorpsesMy Name Is RedMy Sister's KeeperMystery Time StoriesNasty, Short and BrutalNecessary NoiseNelson Mandela's Favorite African FolktalesNemesisNeuroticaNever Fade AwayNever Let Me GoNew Australian StoriesNight FilmNina: AdolescenceNone of the AboveNorth of BeautifulNothing RightNovel About My WifeObjects of My AffectionObservatory MansionsOdd HoursOddsOld SchoolOn Chesil BeachOn the CouchOnce You Go BackOne Flew Over The Cuckoo's NestOne Good TurnOne More WednesdayOne Pill Makes You SmallerOptic Nerve #11Our Souls at NightOver Tumbled GravesPaint It BlackPanicParadiseParadise LodgeParanoiaParty GirlPeculiaPerfect LivesPharmakonPhobicPianoPictures of YouPilgrim at Tinker CreekPlaying with 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from the Bell JarSourlandSpeakSpeaking With the AngelSpeed ShrinkingSquirrel Seeks ChipmunkSshhhh!Stealing TimeSteel BreezeStill AliceStill MissingStir-FryStoner & SpazStop PretendingStraight ManStrange FleshStrange Stories for Strange Kids Summer BlondeSunstrokeSupreme CourtshipSwimmerSwimming Sweet ArrowSwimming to ElbaSwimming with StrangersSworn to SilenceSylvia PlathTaking FlightTales of PsychotherapyTalking to AddisonTeaseTell the Truth, Shame the DevilTestimonyThat Old Cape MagicThe 101 Best Graphic NovelsThe 7 Deadly Sins SamplerThe Abortionist's DaughterThe Abstinence TeacherThe AccidentalThe AdultsThe AlienistThe Almost MoonThe Arctic IncidentThe Artist of DisappearanceThe Austere AcademyThe Average American MarriageThe AwakeningThe Babes in the WoodThe Bad BeginningThe Beach HouseThe Beast of CretaceaThe Beat Goes OnThe Bell JarThe Best AwfulThe Big GirlsThe Big KissThe Big LoveThe Bird HouseThe Bird WomanThe Birthday RiotsThe Bitch PosseThe Blue Moon Erotic Reader IIIThe 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BemisThe Elementary ParticlesThe End Of AliceThe End of EverythingThe End of Mr. YThe Erotic EdgeThe Eternity CubeThe Extinction of DesireThe Field of the DogsThe Fig EaterThe First Fifteen Lives of Harry AugustThe Gingerbread GirlThe Girl in 6EThe Girl in the GardenThe Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's NestThe Girl Who Loved Tom GordonThe Girl Who Played with FireThe Girl with the Dragon TattooThe Girl Without a NameThe GirlsThe Good PsychologistThe Great Books Foundation Short Story OmnibusThe Green ParrotThe Grief of OthersThe Grim GrottoThe Guise of AnotherThe Gum ThiefThe Guy Not TakenThe Heretic's DaughterThe HoursThe Housekeeper and the ProfessorThe Ice QueenThe Ice TwinsThe InseparablesThe InterestingsThe IntimatesThe Keeper of Lost CausesThe Kindness of StrangersThe Kings of LondonThe Language of SecretsThe Last ChildThe Last MileThe Last PhysicianThe Last PrecinctThe Lay of the LandThe Lincoln LawyerThe Little FriendThe Lost MotherThe Love HexagonThe Lovely BonesThe Lover's 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Canadian born Alix Ohlin's debut
novel The Missing Person has been widely praised, and with this book of
seventeen short stories she reverses the familiar pattern of the writer who
publishes a collection of short stories as prelude to a longer work. One of
these stories has been anthologized in the Michael Chabon edited Best
American Short Stories (2005) placing Ohlin in the impressive company of Joyce
Carol Oates, Charles
D'Ambrosio, Alice Munro and others. Expectations are therefore high. In the
best of these stories Ohlin delivers, and the book is worth reading for these
gems. But there are stories that suffer from excessive exposition and a
tendency to state in black and white, perceptions that were already adequately evoked.
The opening story, The king of kohlrabi,
concerns Aggie, a 17 year old whose father has left, ruining Aggie's plans for
a leisurely summer learning to play guitar. When Aggie meets Mr. Dejun at the
supermarket he offers her a job, and a series of events unfolds that sees Mr.
Dejun at Aggie's house, while Aggie is on the phone to her father. The story is
interesting enough, but in the telling it never rises above an adolescent tone.
In the next story, Transcription, Ohlin hits her straps. Walter is
sixty-five with chronic lung disease. His nephew Carl rescues Walter from a
malodorous nursing home and resolves to care for him. The story is punctuated
by excerpts from Walter's medical chart, ending with Carl's reflection on
Walter's poor prognosis. Throughout, Ohlin feeds in fragments of Carl's earlier
life, recollections of Walter, and finally the deeper reason for his uncommon
commitment. This is a lovely story, written with economy and close observation.
Another superb story is Simple exercises for the beginning student
(selected for Best American Short Stories). Eight year old Kevin pursues
his interest in the piano as his parents' relationship disintegrates. His
lessons with Mrs. Tanizaki bring him into contact with Lawrence, Mrs. Tanizaki's
quirky, fifteen year old son who has impolite eating habits. Kevin is entranced
by the piano, although there is little sense that he achieves a great deal.
Nevertheless Kevin's mother Rachel insists on his continuing to learn. There is
so much left unsaid in this story, yet Ohlin draws readers into the lives of
Kevin and Rachel. This is a warm and empathic piece of writing.
Other stories are less
satisfactory. You are here seems flat and uninspired. Like The king
of kohlrabi, the adolescent manner of the characters pervades the narrative.
Iz's phony and amateurish French accent rapidly becomes tiresome, as does her
father's stereotypical insistence that Iz study business and commerce rather
than arts. A theory of entropy has its moments. Carson is a scientist
attempting to write a popular work about entropy. With partner Claire he spends
some time in a remote cottage, working on a book that his publisher Jocelyn tells
him "could be the biggest scientific best-seller since Origin of
Species". When Jocelyn arrives at the cottage to help with the editing
there's a discernable frisson, but is it strictly literary? As a device for a
story this is all quite compelling, but the story never really takes off. Carson's
dialogue is labored and clichéd ("...a scientific theory is a model, not
some fairy tale"; "Order and disorder are only categories. They don't
hold up, statistically."). It's not at all clear why such a high thinking
scientist would agree to write a popular work. The editing accomplished, Ohlin
fastforwards to the following spring when the book is published, and Claire has
taken up with Jocelyn. There is little in the story to suggest a developing
relationship -- perhaps the story contains some deep symbolism -- but it seemed
more than a little contrived. In Wonders never cease Penny and Tom rent
a house in the country and plan to start a family. Irene proves to be a
solicitous if somewhat intrusive landlady, but a visit from alcoholic former
tenant Guy provides an explanation that changes the complexion of the story.
Guy is unlikable and corny, but Penny is sympathetic and seems attracted to
him. I found the tension of the story dissipated by its rather improbable
ending, and by the convenient way Guy was dropped form the plot.
Ohlin takes risks with her writing.
She avoids tidy endings, leaving several of these stories with major unresolved
questions. That's a fine thing in a short story, but you have to get it right.
Ohlin gets it right in Trouble with the Dutchman, when Ellen's
relationship with Phil has taken a turn for the worse, and Ellen is attracted
to Haitian immigrant Jean-Michel. Early one morning the three come together as
a result of Phil's uncharacteristic and extreme act of violence towards a dog.
Of all the possible reasons for this act, Ohlin does enough to hint at jealousy
without making that overt. The story ends with the three characters in a car
park, and no real indication as to how things will work out. This is a
satisfying conclusion despite its uncertainty; perhaps because of it. We feel
drawn into the story, and engaged in its resolution; our fears for the future
are those of the characters. In Local news, Ohlin uses a similar ploy
and again it works well. Reporter Joanne has spent the night with the loathsome
fire suspect Luther, only to find policeman cum boyfriend Jeff arriving at
Luther's apartment to make inquiries. Jeff lacks the wits to see the writing on
the wall, but readers are well in on the story. In Land of the midnight sun,
Ohlin creates a nice tension between Russian exchange student Yuri and host
Bat. Perhaps inevitably, Yuri becomes attracted to Bat's sister Max. But rather
than work this tension out (or leave it unresolved as in Trouble with the
Dutchman), the story lurches forward in time not once, but twice, with the
result that plot devices trump character development.
There are some other great stories
here, such as I like to dance at weddings and The tennis partner.
Ohlin's characters seldom live uncomplicated lives. Beneath the surface of
family life and relationships there are tensions and frustrations that can be
suppressed for so long, but which are never going to go away. The
eccentricities Ohlin brings to light are more than an observer's imposed point
of view, they are the believable attributes of characters who are disarmingly
normal. I had the feeling that Ohlin would like to have written some of these stories
into novels. The casting forward, sometimes by years, in the final pages
provided a point of view that in some cases diminished the poignancy of the
moments captured. In the best stories we are left in the present. With the
characters we wonder where it's all heading.
This is a worthwhile collection,
rewarding reading for the stories that work well, and for the inventive
combinations of character and circumstance.
© 2006 Tony O'Brien
Tony O'Brien is a short story
writer and lecturer in mental health nursing at the University of Auckland, New