This auspicious debut, begun at the Michener Center for Writers, isn't a mystery yarn or a family gothic, a romance, or a satire of radical environmentalism. It's all of the above and then some.
The Missing Person
by Alix Ohlin
Knopf, 292 pp., $22.95This auspicious debut, begun at the Michener Center for Writers, isn't a mystery yarn or a family gothic, a romance, or a satire of radical environmentalism. It's all of the above and then some. Protagonist Lynn Fleming, a graduate student in art history, is a delicious snark, but Ohlin endows her with enough empathy and circumspection to give her a nuanced perspective on the book's events, which transpire during a stagnant summer back home in Albuquerque. Lynn's brother, Wylie, has gone missing, and their mother, a tightly wound travel agent whose new boyfriend just happens to still be married to his insane wife, is panicked. At her request, Lynn broaches the local subculture of ecological terrorists: searching for Wylie, falling for an anarchist plumber, and unearthing a plan to sabotage a development under construction. The book is often madcap but never silly or airy; though its quiet observations about the family dynamic are flecked with dark humor, these moments feel real and lived-in. Ohlin is deeply concerned with the ways in which parents and their grown children disappoint one another, a rich subject she mines with confidence and tenacity. Ohlin's squabbling, predictably disorganized hippie kids and their subversive hijinks fade from memory after the book ends, but her careful treatment of the generation gap doesn't: The children gradually recognize their parents' frailties, the parents resent the children who've outgrown them and rejected their values, and the quarter-century crisis manifests during a trip to a hometown that now seems like an alien landscape.
Alix Ohlin will be at BookPeople with Alicia Erian (Towelhead) tonight, Thursday, May 26, at 7pm.