THE OUTSIDE OF AUGUST
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Wanderlust strikes hard in this fitfully engaging second novel by Hershon (Swimming), in which loyalty and commitment vie with the irrepressible desire to escape. Growing up in a cavernous Long Island house, Alice Green seems always to be waiting for her mother, Charlotte, to return. A capricious woman who travels to exotic countries at a moment's notice for weeks at a time, Charlotte and her absences put a palpable strain on the Green family. Alice's father, a professor of neurobiology, glosses over her foibles, and Alice turns for comfort to her older brother, August, a self-contained boy who becomes a rebellious adolescent, spending more and more time with his rich, orphaned girlfriend, Cady. When Alice is 16 and August 18, their mother is killed in a fire, and August leaves home, gradually drifting farther and farther away. Like their mother, he travels all over the world and balks at coming home even when his father dies. Alice—a nervous, peace-making child, then a defiant teenager willing to kiss anyone, and finally the only member of the family determined to hold things together—travels to Baja, Mexico, to find August, in a final attempt to understand him. While she is there, he reveals a secret that gives her a new perspective on their past. Hershon creates a few complex, well-rounded characters—Alice and Cady are particularly satisfying—but August and Charlotte never become much more than ciphers, their wanderings only cursorily explained. Hershon aims for lyricism but sometimes misses the mark ("The sky drained slowly as she anticipated the sight of her father's car coming home from the lab") in what is, overall, a choppy sophomore effort. (Aug.)