Tuesday, May 4, 2010

The Hole We're In by Gabrielle Zevin

I anticipated reading this book since first hearing about it earlier this year. Gabrielle Zevin is one of my favorite YA authors and she’s also kind of a local girl since her parents live (our used to live?) here. Patti and I went to see her when she was in town promoting Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac. I think she talked about working on this novel and we were disappointed that it was adult.*

The Hole We’re In is an adult book, published by Black Cat. When I searched for reviews, I was a little shocked that it was reviewed in Oprah’s magazine. With a discussion guide! Well well well. Good for Gabrielle Z.

At the end of the first chapter Roger Pomeroy admits he is looking at the hole in the stocking of his professor who playfully bats back, “How can you look at a hole?” Well, we have 283 pages of hole scrutinizing ahead. Some characters realize they are in a hole and try to get out, others just create giant holes and are clueless, and then there are those who just ignore the holes. Finances, school, marriage, children, friendships, religion, work – all holes. The small ones just as hurtful as the giant gaping ones with big signs that say THIS IS EFFED UP! (To quote Patsy.)

The book is split into 4 parts and spans several decades, ending up in 2022. We follow the Pomeroys, taking turns with dad Roger (Pastor Dad, a self-centered I have an opera in me! tool, mom George (an unbalanced, disconnected sad sack), Vinny (went to Yale and thus excommunicated from church and family), Helen (bored speech therapist, unremarkable), and Patsy (youngest by 10 years, Iraq War Vet, petite shoulders bear the weight of her family’s dysfunction).

We spend most of our time with Roger, George, and Patsy and the hell they make of each other’s lives. Zevin packs so much into this novel. I felt overwhelmed not only by the stories, but by the sadness. These characters wreck lives and it’s hard to go there with them. Roger is unlikeable in his self-delusion that he is doing God’s work. George isn’t any better and an even worse decision maker. Her betrayal of Patsy so enraged me that I could not come around when redemption was sought at the end. (It was brilliant writing, though. Kudos to Zevin on that one.) Vinny is really only around to provide a flipside of normalcy. Helen is boring and has the scary potential to become like her parents (deluded, careless). Patsy is the gamechanger. She challenges the “circumstances of her birth” and does realize the crap that has been dealt to her. Add to that a helping of PTSD from her time in the service. Good luck, Patsy!

As frustrated as I was reading it, I did recognize the great writing of Gabrielle Zevin. She takes a sharp look at social classes, family, and religion; really hitting hard at the hypocrisy of ultra-conservative religion. It is also dark and very funny which is signature Zevin. I love how Britney Spears is a major theme in the novel. How crazy is that? Crazy good. More funny parts: The Christmas play characters wore Halloween costumes (Gandalf=god, Princess Leia = Mary, Frodo = Joseph), Sabbath Day Adventists are vegetarians and own the 5th largest snack cake company in the USA, Big Rock in the novel is Round Rock, TX!, an image of Jesus appears on the ceiling of a Wal-Mart-type store over the contraceptive aisle.

The novel lumbered along, but was still a quick read. As hard as it was sometimes, the stories kept my curiosity. What next? Or, what can the author do to these people now? Good heavens!

Source: checked out from my library

*But a new YA novel is coming out next year!


Gabrielle said...

Hi Joanna from Austin, I remember you! Thanks for reading and for coming out way back in 2007. I can completely live with this review!! You mention the good parts and you're kind about everything else. Drop me your address -- e-mail is on on my blog -- and I'll make sure you get an ARC of the new YA when I have them -- I imagine early next year-ish. Yours, Gabrielle Zevin (Yeah, I get Google Alerts, she said shamefacedly...)

joanna said...

It took me all day to compose myself. I'm remembered! Patti and I combed the adult ARCs at our library for months when we heard about it. Maybe you'll get to be on Oprah!

Patti said...

Gabrielle Zevin! Thanks for stopping by! Come back soon :)