Print Reviews
Babylon and Other Stories
by Alix Ohlin
Knopf (2005)
 Babylon and Other Stories
8 / 10
I have this theory that if you read an Alix Ohlin story while watching an episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm, the two sync up perfectly. Like Larry David, Ohlin has a method, and she rarely deviates from it. First, she hints at a quirk or issue that will later prove problematic; next, her protagonist reels from some sudden event; finally, the threads meet in an uncomfortable, though not necessarily expected, knot.

Most of Babylon's stories explore themes of trust; parents and lovers abandon each other, women create elaborately false identities, and even very young children turn on their friends—all the while acting as though everything is fine. In "You Are Here," college freshman Iz rejects her comfortable suburban upbringing by pretending to be French, but finds that neither persona fits. In "Simple Lessons for the Beginning Student," (a 2005 Best Short Story) an eight-year-old boy studies piano amidst family turmoil and financial struggles. Both stories characterize Ohlin's ability to create—and leave—a big, graceful mess for her characters, where endings are never quite happy, but can be hopeful, depending on the individual reader's approach to the final lines.

Ohlin's stories are tightly written and feel utterly true; though her mechanics may not change, her voice disappears behind those of her rich and varied characters. Occasionally, her MFA shows (someone is "innocent as milk," for example), but Ohlin's serious ear for detail offers plenty for short-story nerds to appreciate.
Posted by: Christie Church

Print Reviews (January 19th, 2007)