Outside Is the Ocean

Matthew Lansburgh. Univ. of Iowa, $17 trade paper (192p) ISBN 978-1-60938-527-9
The linked short stories in Lansburgh’s debut collection comprise a moving portrait of the book’s central figure, Heike. Though she grew up in war-torn Germany, she spends most of her life in the United States, where she crashes through several tumultuous relationships and raises a family. Heike understands herself as a survivor of a treacherous childhood and the victim of her ungrateful children’s disrespect. Stories from other perspectives, however, show her selfish, overbearing, and manipulative side. Heike’s neighbor comments on her petulance and stinginess. After Heike swindles her new husband out of his house, her stepdaughter calls her “a bitch on wheels.” Her son Stewart, a gay academic whose love affairs provide engaging subplots, sums her up neatly on a trip home for Christmas: “On the one hand... she had been through a lot... On the other hand, she specialized in being a pain in the ass.” Lansburgh reveals Heike’s complexity through exquisite imagery: Heike’s too-tight bikini, which she calls her “orange knockout,” is emblematic of both her confidence and her exhibitionism. Recurring details lend cohesion, while the settings—zipping from 1993 to 1967 to 2019—give the collection a novel-like scope. Lansburgh’s linked stories succeed as a nuanced character study and a resonant commentary on the challenges of romantic and familial love. (Oct.)
Reviewed on: 08/21/2017
Release date: 10/01/2017
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