When art history grad student Lynn Fleming finds out that Wylie, her younger brother, has disappeared, she reluctantly leaves New York and returns to the dusty Albuquerque of her youth. What she finds when she arrives is more unsettling and frustrating than she could have predicted. Wylie is nowhere to be found, not in the tiny apartment he shares with a grungy band of eco-warriors, or lingering close to his suspiciously well-maintained Caprice. As Wylie continues to evade her, Lynn becomes certain that Angus, one of her brother's environmental cohorts, must know more than he is revealing. What follows is a tale of ecological warfare, bending sensibilities, and familial surprises as Lynn searches for her missing person.
Although the title makes this sound like a mystery, it is a knowing and witty take on family ties, the politics of art and academia, and eco-terrorism. When art history graduate student Lynn Fleming finds out that Wylie, her younger brother, is missing--or at least hasn't been heard from and can't be located--Lynn returns home to Albuquerque to try to find him. Since she left to go to school in New York, she has become a confirmed New Yorker, and the thought of Albuquerque, "the capital of nowhere," makes her shudder, though she reluctantly appreciates Duke City's "scruffy charm." When someone in Albuquerque tells her, "I don't know anybody like you," she "almost choked in exasperation. New York, I wanted to say, was full of people exactly like me." Lynn finds Wylie easily and, in the process, strikes up a romance with Angus, one of Wylie's partners in eco-crime, a sunny and charming plumber whose darker side is gradually revealed. As the schemes of the group Angus leads get riskier and more dangerous, Lynn finds herself becoming involved with their actions and sympathizing with their philosophy, but not their methods or zeal. An interesting subplot about a Mew Mexican woman artist, whose work becomes fodder for Lynn's doctoral dissertation, is woven believably into the narrative. This promising debut is intelligent, insightful and often bitterly funny. Agent, Amy Williams at Collins McCormick. (May 6)
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August 07, 2006
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Excerpt from The Missing Person by Alix Ohlin
Days started in Brooklyn with bright, compromised light. I'd been sleeping late. In the mornings, the blinds sending geometric stripes across the sheets, I kept willing myself to wake up, then slept again, fifteen minutes each time. Construction and conversation, dogs barking their greetings, the irritated beeping of vehicles in reverse-none of it could get me out of bed. By the time I got up, it seemed too late to bother doing anything; the day was almost gone. This was a problem I'd been having.
The phone rang early in the morning, early in June.
"Lynn," my mother said. She was panting slightly, as if she'd been running to the phone, though hadn't she placed the call? "I didn't think you'd be home. You're always at the library, or teaching, I thought."
"I almost always am," I said, pulling back the covers and pushing myself finally out of bed. I opened the blinds and looked out through the grate. Across the street from me, between the pet store and the souvlaki place, was a psychic's office. A neon crystal ball-blue pedestal, red base, under a pair of cajoling hands-stayed lit in the window twenty-four hours a day. The psychic herself was a stocky woman with long frizzy hair, given to flowery housecoats and red lipstick. I sometimes watched her sit in the window drinking coffee and smoking cigarettes, gazing out at the street. I never saw anybody go in there. What did she do all day, and how did she survive? I'd lived across from her for three years, ever since I started graduate school, but still I often asked myself these pressing questions.
"Lynn," my mother said again. "So what do you think I should do?"
"I've been talking," she said. "By convention, on the telephone, one person talks while the other listens. People have agreed that this is the best way to approach it. Do you have a different idea?"
"Sorry. My attention must have drifted there for a minute. I just got up."
"It's ten o'clock!"
"I was up late, um, studying."
"I've been up for hours. I couldn't sleep. I'm worried about Wylie, and I thought, I'll call Lynn, she always knows how to handle him, she can communicate, and now you're not even listening." "What's wrong with Wylie?"
"He cut off his phone. He lives like a monk and weighs about as much as a tin can. An empty tin can. Not only that-he won't speak to me. I have one child who won't speak to me in person and another who won't listen to me on the phone."
This she ignored. "I want you to come home."
"To Albuquerque?" I gave a shudder I hoped was inaudible and went into the kitchen to make coffee, cradling the phone against my shoulder.
"Don't take that tone," my mother said. She seemed to have heard the shudder, which was an uncanny ability of hers.
"What tone is that?"
"The I'm-too-good-for-Albuquerque tone. You've had it ever since you moved to New York."
"I hated Albuquerque just as much when I still lived there."
"I don't know why. You're just like Wylie, do you know that? You have all these objections that don't even make sense."
"Mom," I said, "I feel like we're not actually getting anywhere in this conversation." Across the street the psychic entered the window and stood with her arms folded, a cigarette tense between her fingers. The souvlaki guy, passing by her window, waved good morning. With slow elegance she raised her eyebrows and blew a perfect smoke ring, and he laughed.
"It's those eco-freaks," my mother said plaintively. "Wylie's friends. They've turned him against me. He won't call, won't come over for dinner. He says he's breaking away. He says I'm too complicit, but I don't think it's complicit to cook him a hot meal. I don't even know what I'm complicit in, do you?"
"I'm not sure. The dominant paradigm?"
"I'm a travel agent," my mother said, "not a paradigm." Sorrow and annoyance chimed together in her voice, a mother's chord.
"I know," I told her. We observed a moment of silence. Afterwards a gentle plastic rattle came through on the line, the sound of my mother's short manicured nails against her keyboard, and I realized she was calling from work.
"I'm booking you a ticket. We have some great deals through Minneapolis."
"Don't do that, Mom."
"I'm not taking no for an answer."
"No," I said.
"What did I just say? We've got great deals. Minneapolis is desperate for flights. They'll do anything. They'll pay you to fly there, practically. Listen, I'm pressing a button. I'm confirming. I'll e-mail you the reservation."
"Don't do that," I said.
"You're coming home."