cover image Babylon and Other Stories

Babylon and Other Stories

Alix Ohlin, . . Knopf, $23 (275pp) ISBN 978-0-375-41525-8

Ohlin's debut novel, The Missing Person (2005), featured a believably odd plot and displayed her chops in nailing contemporary idioms. The 17 stories of this collection do the same in miniature, but never quite fuse her characters and their circumstances. The title story refers to the name of the Long Island town where computer programmer Robert, 29, meets medical assistant Astrid; they begin a highly charged, highly compartmentalized relationship within a bubble of work-phone-apartment that may have a more solid foundation on its flaws than on its virtues. The opening "King of Kohlrabi" features a typically precocious teen, Aggie, who must cope with her father's abandoning his family for his law partner, Margaret; the story pivots around her clear voice as events, beginning with a minor car accident, spin out of control. In "I Love to Dance at Weddings," Leda, following the death of her husband of 27 years, marries three times in succession, arousing a tangle of emotions in her son, Nick, and Nick's wife, Nathalie. Ohlin is expert in rendering the haze of alienation that hangs over all her characters' relationships and their various suburban settings. The stories read like hopeless, tightly constructed variations on unhappiness, a Babylon where communication is as impossible as it is pointless. (Aug. 1)