Outside is the Ocean by Mathew Lansburgh


Part of him wanted something terrible to happen to Banjo and to her, to everyone involved. He wanted the guilty to be punished.

Stewart’s mother Heike, a German immigrant who came to start fresh in America at the age of 21, should be punished for putting her long suffering son through the ringers, but she can’t help her ‘intractable’ nature. A woman who knows no boundaries, exasperated with everyone else’s stinginess, wondering at how anything can be owned really- be it living quarters, swimming pools, and even pets. Heike has done everything she could to make a living for her beloved son, and if her love is suffocating him, well shame on him for not appreciating all the sacrifices she makes. Didn’t she try to be fit and beautiful for Stewart’s father, breaker of promises? If her natural state of being, in revealing clothes or no clothes at all embarrasses her son, well it’s just the fault of  him being American born. People outta ease up!

We follow Heike first raising her son, who is struggling with his sexuality and the distance between he and his father. Stewart, pulled in his mother’s never ending dramas, and maddening histrionics must get out if he is to have his own identity. Heike has a way of stealing the air from any room! She is, later, in his love life! Heike is distraught over the strain between her and Stewart, but the reality of having adopted a disabled Russian daughter, whom she was sure would appreciate being saved from that cold country more than her son seemed to appreciate all she did for him, comes crashing down. So much for teaching Stewart a lesson, Galina schools her instead. Galina is violent, acts out, disrupts Heike’s life, makes her more vulnerable, exposes her as a terrible mother, betrays her to neighbors!  It’s so unfair! Galina is nothing like calm, quiet Stewart whom often felt as inconsequential as his slight essence. Heike is losing it, and the letters she writes to Stewart are heartbreaking, but sometimes endearingly humorous.

Heike never gives up, unlike other people! She is the type that would say ‘you want to know suffering, I’ll tell you about suffering’. There is no room for any other stories but her own, she is a one woman show, the rest are all just co-stars. Through marriages, relationships, friendship with a cat hoarder, borrowing dogs, and driving her children and partners nuts, Heike is a character you won’t soon forget. She’s exhausting, and it’s a beautifully written story because the reader can’t help but empathize with every character. I shouldn’t, but I loved Heike- would I want her as my mother, that’s another story. I look forward to Lansburgh’s next novel!

Publication Date: October 15, 2017

University of Iowa Press


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