Fifteen short stories follow a German immigrant mother and her two children over the span of 50 years.
Heike, a German woman who survived World War II by fleeing her home as a 5-year-old and immigrated to the United States as a young woman, struggles to connect with her lovers and her children. She marries Ray, a womanizer, with whom she has a son, Stewart. After the divorce, Heike and Stewart move to California, where she marries several more times. Stewart becomes a professor and moves to Boston, in no small part to avoid his mother, and also struggles first with his sexuality and then with maintaining a relationship. Heike also adopts a Russian orphan, Galina, and struggles to connect with her. This collection masterfully details moments in which these characters work to understand each other and the heartbreak when their efforts too often fall short. The stories are arranged in nonsequential order, which allows a slow unfolding of insights about each character’s formative moments and their motivations. Narrators shift, as stories are told in the first person by both Heike and Stewart (as well as in the form of letters) and in the third person but focused on Galina, Ray, and others. This fluidity of movement underscores how different two people’s experience of the same event can be and creates characters of deeply affecting complexity. Lansburgh’s portraits of Heike and Stewart are unflinching in examining their neuroses, guilt trips, and emotional withholdings: Heike seeks devotion and understanding but is self-consumed without an understanding of boundaries, while Stewart longs for stability and connection but frequently retreats into himself and avoids all interactions. Not for the faint of heart, this collection is relentless and intense, but Lansburgh’s prose offers stunning moments of tenderness amid its stark depictions of loneliness.
Arresting and pointed.