I received an Advance Reading Copy of this book. All opinions are my own. Publication Date: 27 July 2021
Alix Ohlin’s previous book, a novel called Dual Citizens was shortlisted for the Giller Prize but it wasn’t my personal pick as I found the main characters difficult to get along with. This new short story collection from Ohlin was much more up my personal alley. Difficult characters are often more endearing and easier to handle in small doses and I found Ohlin’s writing style well-suited to a shorter form.
We Want What We Want is a collection of stories, many of them focusing on young women at a point of change in their lives. The first story, The Point of No Return, is about a young woman who returns home from working overseas to find her best friend engaged to her father. But it’s also about the choices you make as you become an adult and the life you choose to grasp hold of. In Risk Management, an older woman and a younger woman are co-workers and we watch the younger woman through the eyes of the older narrator, learning the similarities and divergences of the paths they choose to take. In The Detectives our narrator is dealing with the aftermath of her sister’s horrific accident and again the unspooling of their individual decisions. Yet while the stories bear much in common they are each unique and it was easy to keep the settings and characters individuated in my mind. Ohlin doesn’t cave to easy stereotypes and so the women she writes feel real and honest, like women I might know in my own life or women I might have been.
At times they make strange decisions but even without the format of a short story, their characterization is strong enough that their movements feel honest to who they are. Many of the stories end at a turning point and I was occasionally left wanting more, desiring to know what become of that character. Yet I think Ohlin excels at this, leaving the reader wanting more while still providing a firm ending, letting you feel like the characters go on to live their lives, whether or not anyone is reading.
14 thoughts on “Book Review: We Want What We Want by Alix Ohlin”
This sounds good. You make an interesting point about warming to difficult characters better in a short story than in a novel length story. This might be a bit like spending time with difficult people in real life!
Yes, it’s probably a similar reaction! Like when you meet someone at a party and they’re hilarious but you know they’d be exhausting to have in your life regularly!
This sounds like an interesting read
I’ve read earlier collections from Ohlin, as well as novels, and I’ve always felt her writing is best in short form too. That being said, I do recall being really entranced by her work, she does write women particularly well so I feel like I’m the perfect audience for her books!
She does write women really well! I’d like to read more of her short stories.
Endings are so hard to nail in short story form. One of my favorite short stories writers is Kelly Link despite the fact that she almost never nails the end for me. Too often I’ve turned the page and been surprised to see a new story. Have you read her? I would check out “Stone Animals,” a story I used to teach to college students. You can read it free here: https://electricliterature.com/stone-animals-kelly-link/#article-main-2431
No, I don’t think I’ve read anything by Link. I’ll check out that story! There is a sort of trend in short stories where the ending is super abrupt and while I don’t hate it sometimes it feels kind of lazy. I like when there are hints of what comes next and Ohlin does that well in several of these stories.
I’m glad to hear that. I’ve either heard Ohlin’s name from you or Anne @ I’ve Read This, or I’ve actually read some of their work before.
I think both Anne and I have talked about her before. Her last novel was a Giller contender so she had quite a bit of buzz around her in Canada.
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