An absorbing new novel that is told with a compelling shifting narrative, about three characters in various settings, and the costs and results of what happens people try to help others. If I were a betting man (and let’s face it, I am, under the right circumstances), I’d lay some money down that this novel at least makes the shortlist, which is announced on October 1, 2012.
Alix Ohlin on Inside
A few years ago, I was sitting at my desk when a scene popped into my head: a woman cross-country skiing on Mount Royal park in Montreal comes across a man lying in the snow. Bending down to help him, she sees that he has tried to hang himself, but failed.
I could see it so clearly. The man is distressed but uncommunicative. Having prepared himself to leave the world, he didn’t want anyone to interrupt him. Where others might call for help and then escape, the woman feels compelled to care for him. A therapist by profession, she is drawn to those who are injured and in pain.
The two of them collide in the blue-grey dusk of a January afternoon. Her desire to save him, I sensed, would change both their lives forever.
From this scene, a novel was born.
I’m still not sure where the scene came from, or why it arrived so sharply and vividly. I grew up in Montreal, but no longer live there, and it’s possible that, more than anything, I was feeling homesick for a place I love.
I went to high school down the street from Mount Royal. In the fall I jogged in the park. On weekends I’d sometimes meet friends near the illuminated cross at the top of the mountain, or survey the city’s lights and bridges from one of the lookout points.
The park was both beautiful and urban, a natural jewel both of and above the city. Its trails and pathways and woods attracted everyone—drummers and hikers and teenagers up to no good and families having wholesome fun and drug-dealers and loners and lovers and yes, skiers.
Like the woman I envisioned, I was a skier, though not a good one. I was on the cross country team but not athletic in general and when we competed I usually faked a cramp or stomach flu halfway through the race so as not to have to finish. While the others strode purposefully along, I’d drift off the course, loving the sudden quiet of the snowy woods. I’d lean my poles against a tree and daydream.
Years later, I was still doing the same thing, but now my daydreams became stories and novels.
Starting from that opening scene on the mountain, Inside goes on to explore the lives of three people as their paths intersect over the course of ten years. It’s about the impulse to help others in crisis—where it comes from; why it doesn’t always succeed; and why it is, nonetheless, essential to our humanity.
As the characters’ lives evolve, the action of the book moves to different locations. There are sections in New York, Los Angeles, Iqaluit, Scotland and Rwanda—most of these being places I have come to know in my own travels around the world.
But the heart of the book, to me, is the place where it began. Whenever I’m asked what Inside is about, I always start with that scene in Montreal, a moment that made me sit up and pay attention to my daydream, a moment that demanded to be written down. A moment that brought me, in the writing of it, home.
The Fiction Blog thanks Alix and her publisher, Anansi, for this blog – and wishes them all possible luck on October 1st and beyond.
Author photo credit: © Emma Hanson.