“What do you need? Was what Alice wondered. Why would anyone want to windsurf to Lisbon? And why was it, she wondered, that this was the first thought she had: Her mother would not be worried but pleased. Alice could imagine how her eyes would shine at the thought of Gus courting danger. Alice, therefore, tried not to allow herself to be worried. Her brother, she assured herself as she threw a glance out to sea, always knew what he was doing.”
-Joanna Hershon, The Outside of August
Joanna Hershon’s second novel, The Outside of August, is a beautiful story of one young woman’s emotional and physical journey to find out more about those people who were closest to her; the same people who had somehow evaded her throughout her entire life.
Alice Green is the second child of Alan and Charlotte, and younger sister to her ever-wandering brother, August, or “Gus.” Throughout Alice and August’s childhood, Charlotte is always running away to exotic places around the globe, only returning home to her family for short, often-subdued periods of time. Though Alice seems to be the only one who is deeply troubled by her mother’s sporadic absences, she is also the only one who is not quite able to reach into the heart of the women she so desperately longs for as the child of a mysterious parent. While her father has resided himself to the fact that his wife’s wanderlust is deeply inbred in her soul, and August shares a strange and almost spiritual relationship with his mother, Alice is left picking up the pieces of a family that does not quite seem to understand each other. When her brother disappears as an adult, after a devastating family tragedy, Alice embarks on a journey to seek out a man she never quite understood, and to come to terms with a relationship she could never fully grasp with the women who remained so far beyond her reach.
Hershon’s novel is full of family angst, unconditional love, and tightly held secrets. Each character is well developed in the beginning; yet still so much remains for the reader to decipher in the cloud of mystery that we find surrounding us all through the years. We discover, with Alice, that those who came before us, and those who are bound to us by blood, may not always be who we think, or want them to be.