Signs and Wonders by Alix Ohlin

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Signs and Wonders
272 pages; Vintage Contemporaries
This wise and whimsical story collection kicks off with a dose of flat reality: "She was miserable. She hadn't always been, of course. She'd gotten married in a flurry of sex and promises, wearing a white dress so hideously confectionary that she felt like...a joke told in crinoline and lace." But underneath what's being so boldly told lies a network of quieter mysteries. In the title story, Kathleen (still miserable) paradoxically finds joy and freedom once she realizes she can't stand her husband, then proceeds to discover companionship (but not love) in the very person she detests—a co-worker with a pet canary. People doing things that undermine their best interests is the terrain where Ohlin writes most movingly. From "The Idea Man," about a single mother bungling the love of her life, to "Fork," about a certain Tom who spends all of his time trying to take care of his girlfriend who spends all her time trying to take care of her drug-addicted brother—an Iraq War veteran who spends dinner staring at his silverware, saying, "The tines of a fork. It sounds so perfect, like chimes. Like a trinity. Like trinity of chimes." Clearly, there's plenty of playfulness and warmth throughout these stories, but there's plenty of insight, too. Nobody pulls it together, and nobody falls apart. They simply go on, doing the unexpected, the admirable and, often, the regrettable, for one of the oldest reasons in the word—love.
— Leigh Newman