Blandly handsome Roger Pomeroy is a middle-aged fundamentalist Christian who buries his wife and kids in debt by quitting his job, uprooting to Texas, and maxing out student loans in pursuit of a PhD. The Hole We’re In by Gabrielle Zevin follows his clan’s sad collapse from overspending and predatory decision-making. Narrator Eliza Foss humanizes Hole’s turbulent premise by investing the 10-plus characters she voices with emotional complexity. Foss navigates nearly 25 years of Pomeroy angst with wavering bravado, faked pep, oppressive pauses, and authentic Tennessee lilts and cadences. Her meditative pacing is a cool washcloth on a fever blister.
Back in 1998, new grad student Roger saddles spacey wife George with sole bread-winning duties. She finds work temping for an insurance company, coping with expenses by hiding unopened bills in drawers, and ruining grown son Vinnie’s financials by blowing out credit cards in his name. Meek, overly solicitous George is a vegetarian who picks chicken out of salads rather than demanding meatless greens. Helen is her brittle elder daughter, a compulsive secret shopper demanding an extravagant wedding in her parents’ backyard.
Sassy Patsy is the tenderhearted baby Pomeroy, an insightful cheerleader sacrificed by her parents’ gluttony and ruthlessness. When she gets pregnant by her honorable Yale-bound African-American boyfriend, teen Patsy is exiled by racist Roger. Eventually, she enlists in the military to pay for college (mom and dad funneled her savings), and is deployed to Iraq. Post-combat, Patsy returns wan, amputated, and married to a lunk.
The Hole We’re In is a precisely observed recessionary parable elevated to substantive personal chronicle by Eliza Foss. Her George is watered-down and loopy, while Roger inspires huffy, patrician superiority. He’s a shallow peacock repelled by ugliness, including his professor (and future lover) Carolyn Murray’s “feet displayed like a pair of knickknacks on the cluttered cherry desk”. Foss skewers Roger’s prissy fronting by stretching out every syllable of his discomfort. Her judgment is as ripe and triumphant as any hallelujah chorus. Nita Rao