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.