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Inside by Alix Ohlin: Reading Group Guide

Inside by Alix Ohlin: Reading Group Guide

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Published by Alfred A. Knopf
The introduction, discussion questions, and suggested further reading that follow are designed to enhance your group’s discussion of Alix Ohlin’s emotionally powerful new novel Inside.
The introduction, discussion questions, and suggested further reading that follow are designed to enhance your group’s discussion of Alix Ohlin’s emotionally powerful new novel Inside.

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Published by: Alfred A. Knopf on Aug 13, 2012
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial

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09/29/2013

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 Inside
by Alix OhlinReading Group Guide
About This Guide
The introduction, discussion questions, and suggested further reading that follow are designed toenhance your group’s discussion of Alix Ohlin’s emotionally powerful new novel
 Inside.
About the Book
Alix Olin’s
 Inside
gives readers a novel of extraordinary depth and complexity. Following theintertwined lives of several sets of characters,
 Inside
explores the often hidden inner life and themany ways it radiates into the external world.The novel begins as Grace, a psychotherapist, is out skiing when she stumbles upon aman lying in the snow. The man, named Tug, has fallen after a failed suicide attempt. Gracehelps him to the hospital and then is increasingly, irresistibly drawn into a relationship with him,driven by the desire to help him and to unravel the mystery of who he really is. Tug keeps hisown inner life safely out of reach, barely sharing the mere facts of his past, and certainly notrevealing the reasons for his suicide attempt. He is a riddle Grace is determined to solve.
 Inside
shifts between different time periods, settings, and characters, exploring theirincreasingly complex relationships and interrelationships. Throughout the novel, the theme of helping others—or of trying and often failing to help others—appears again and again. Gracetries to rescue Tug from his despair and the posttraumatic stress he suffers after witnessingatrocities in Rwanda. She also tries to help her clients, one of whom, a teenager named Anne,runs away to New York and becomes an actress. With little money or stability of her own, Annetakes in two other runaways, Hilary and Alan, virtually turning over her East Village apartmentto a pair of strangers. Mitch, Grace’s ex-husband and himself a therapist, is drawn into arelationship with Martine, partly drawn by the desire to help her autistic son. But when thatproves too draining, he heads off to work with a struggling native community in Alaska, wherehe tries to help Thomasie, a young Inuit man whose mother lies in a coma after falling asleepdrunk in the snow with her daughter. Later in the novel, Mitch will help Grace recover after shesuffers a car accident.Ohlin delves into the inner lives of each of these characters with extraordinary sensitivityand skill, revealing their motivations, their fears and vulnerabilities, and the strategies they’veadopted to cope with their pain. Again and again, she shows how these people push up againstthe limits of their ability to help or be helped. She explores, as well, the many ways peoplechoose to hide, disappear, or walk away from each other.
 
And yet the novel—unflinchingly honest about the ways in which our attempts to helpothers often fail or prove disastrous—is ultimately hopeful. As Ohlin writes near the end of thebook: “Witnessing the pain of others is the very least you can do in this world. It’s how youknow that when your own turn comes, someone will be there with you” [p. 252]. The novel itself asks readers to bear witness to the pain of others, a request that is amply rewarded by theremarkable insight it offers into the human condition, and by the sheer pleasure of greatstorytelling.
Questions for discussion
1.In what ways does the novel unfold the significance of its title? In what ways is it about theinner life?
2.
What threads run throughout the novel? In what multiple ways are all the major charactersinterconnected? What important experiences do they share?
3.
Tug tells Grace: “There’s something weird about a person like you who’s so intent on helpinga fuck-up,” to which Grace replies, “Maybe there’s something weird about a person like you,who thinks he doesn’t deserve anybody’s help” [p. 100]. Why is Grace so intent on helping Tug?Why is he so resistant to her help?
4.
In what ways is this a novel about the desire to help others (or to rescue them) and the limitsof this desire? Which other characters take on the role of helper? What are the consequences of their efforts?
5.
Why does Anne run away from home? How is Hilary able to tell that she’s a runaway likeherself?
6.
After she is attacked in Edinburgh, Anne decides to keep the experience from her fellowactors and feels “the secret high that came from thinking none of them knew her at all” [p. 131].Tug keeps his inner life “hidden behind a curtain, on a secret stage” [p. 165]. In what ways dothe characters in
 Inside
both reveal and conceal their inner lives? What does the novel ultimatelysuggest about one person’s ability to truly know another?
7.
After Tug tells Grace about his traumatic experiences in Rwanda, the terrible violence andsuffering he witnessed there, he says: “You can tell people your story, or any terrible story, andit doesn’t make any difference. Things just keep happening over and over again” [p. 186]. Is Tugright about this? Does telling one’s story have no healing effects?
8.
What is the effect of the novel’s shifting back and forth between characters, time periods, andplaces?9.Is Mitch right to blame himself for not helping Thomasie more? Why doesn’t he followthrough on his offer to help? What more might he have done?

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