cover image Signs and Wonders

Signs and Wonders

Alix Ohlin. Vintage, $15 trade paper (272p) ISBN 978-0307743794

Ohlin’s (Babylon and Other Stories) second winning short story collection grapples with the trappings of love and loss as the characters in each of its 16 offerings bumble through, stomaching what life has dealt them. Many of the tightly crafted vignettes follow predictable yet nonetheless engrossing plot lines, from adjusting to a divorce while on a cruise in the Galápagos (“The Cruise”), to being jilted by a once-spurned lover years after the initial flirtation (“Who Do You Love?”), to once privileged college students learning the ropes of New York City living as lowly help in arty offices (“The Assistants”). Where Ohlin really shines is in drawing out the unexpected in ordinary situations without stepping too close to the edge. In “Forks,” a doctor helps his girlfriend’s addict brother commit suicide—or so it’s implied. The almost unpalatable circumstances in “Robbing the Cradle”—a happy couple’s inability to conceive—are turned upside down when the wife seduces a teenage boy, intent on becoming pregnant and saving her marriage. The title story finds a wife forced to care for her suddenly comatose husband the night after the two decide to divorce. While not all hit their intended mark, these snippets of life’s upheavals highlight Ohlin’s keen eye for observation. Agent: Amy Williams, McCormick & Williams. (June)