February 2010

Benjamin Jacob Hollars


The Hole We're In by Gabrielle Zevin

The Hole We’re In, Gabrielle Zevin’s follow-up to her critically-acclaimed 2005 novel Elsewhere, shines the brightest possible light on the troubles of today. Yet her scathing critique on religion, economics, pop culture, and the modern family attempts such a scattershot approach at placing blame, that any true commentary becomes obscured in the process.

The Pomeroys are an all-American, God-fearing, debt-stricken family of five. When 42-year-old Roger decides to quit his job and begin work on his Ph.D., the family struggles to find a new strategy to stay afloat. His wife, Georgia, simply chooses to ignore their accumulating debt while the three children -- soon-to-be-married Helen, film school student Vinnie and Patsy (who, despite her religious upbringing, has an abortion in her future) -- all face their own economic hardships.

In many ways, The Hole We’re In is a bit like watching the slowest train wreck imaginable. From the first page we sense the family’s impending doom, and we read on simply to discover which straw will break their backs. We watch because we cannot look away, and, although we might hate to admit it, because we revel in their failures.

Zevin’s novel offers few answers, but instead, functions as a cautionary tale on the role finances play on one family’s moral destruction. Within pages, we watch the world’s greatest dad sleep with his thesis advisor, while the world’s greatest mom defrauds her son. Soon after, the world’s greatest family is reduced to individual pieces of a larger puzzle that, quite literally, never comes together. In fact, Zevin never allows us to view the family in a single room together. Instead, we watch as each family member struggles through his or her own poor choices, accruing greater debts, fewer allies, and finding themselves with no place left to run. Following her abortion, Patsy, the youngest Pomeroy, comments how “life could seem so expansive one moment and so infinitesimal the next.” It’s a sentiment the rest of the family silently shares.

The Hole We’re In is nothing short of a referendum on religion, continually challenging the boundaries of blind faith by revealing faith’s shortcomings. It is a case study of how one family becomes ensnared in the world’s trap without ever realizing it. Yet pitying the Pomeroys is like pitying the rats that risk electric shock for the cheese they will never reach. All we can do is shake our heads and ask, “Will they ever learn a thing?”

In the opening pages, Roger looks at the hole in his soon-to-be-lover/thesis advisor’s stocking. Upon informing her of it, the woman laughs, asking, “How can you look at a hole?” 

It raises a good point. How can we objectively examine our own failures? Nevertheless, we have no trouble examining the Pomeroys’. Theirs is a tragically slow downward spiral, yet we take every turn with them, attempting to untangle the web of how they got there, hoping to avoid it ourselves.

The Hole We're In by Gabrielle Zevin
Grove/Black Cat
ISBN: 0802119239
288 Pages