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THE OUTSIDE OF AUGUST by Joanna Hershon

THE OUTSIDE OF AUGUST

By Joanna Hershon

Pub Date: Aug. 1st, 2003
ISBN: 0-345-43915-5
Publisher: Ballantine

A wistful family portrait by Hershon (Swimming, 2001) follows two Long Island children through adolescence to adulthood as they struggle to make sense of their parents’ unhappy marriage.

No matter what Tolstoy thought, unhappy families are made miserable by pretty much the same things—money, drugs, or sex. Sometimes madness clouds the picture, too, and this seems like a real possibility in the case of the Greens of Long Island. Alan and Charlotte are a suave, well-educated couple (he a neurobiologist, she an artist) who raised two fine children (son August, daughter Alice) in their tastefully decorated colonial house. Or, at least, they started to: from the time the kids could make their own breakfasts, Charlotte went traveling, by herself, on vaguely defined (and often unannounced) “business trips” that usually lasted several months or more. Alan, unhappy about these disappearances but powerless to keep Charlotte home, retreated into his work and often spent twelve hours a day at the lab. He became even more distant after Charlotte died under mysterious circumstances when the children were still in their teens. Given their start in life, it’s not a surprise that neither August nor Alice fits in comfortably with the suburban world around them. August left home early, became a surfer, and traveled the world looking for the perfect wave; Alice moved to Manhattan and became a kind of professional grad student. Their father’s death, now, brings them together for the first time in 15 years, but, nevertheless, August can’t stay put long and flees without an explanation the day after the funeral. Incensed, Alice tracks him to Mexico (where he’s living as a kind of beachfront squatter) and tries to learn what he’s hiding from. Instead, she learns what drove her mother away nearly two decades before.

A moving tale that goes on far too long: it ends up sounding as sad and rambling as a drunk’s confession.