The Hole We're In: A Novel

The Hole We're In: A Novel

by Gabrielle Zevin

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A “sharply funny and sobering . . . portrait of a family in financial free fall” from the New York Times–bestselling author of Young Jane Young (People).
With The Hole We’re In—a bold, timeless, yet all too timely novel about a troubled American family navigating an even more troubled America—award-winning author and screenwriter, Gabrielle Zevin, delivers a work that places her in the ranks of our shrewdest social observers and top literary talents.
Meet the Pomeroys: a church-going family living in a too-red house in a Texas college town. Roger, the patriarch, has impulsively gone back to school, only to find his future ambitions at odds with the temptations of the present. His wife, Georgia, tries to keep things afloat at home, but she’s been feeding the bill drawer with unopened envelopes for months and never manages to confront its swelling contents. In an attempt to climb out of the holes they’ve dug, Roger and Georgia make a series of choices that have catastrophic consequences for their three children—especially for Patsy, the youngest, who will spend most of her life fighting to overcome them. The Hole We’re In shines a spotlight on some of the most relevant issues of today: over-reliance on credit, gender and class politics, and the war in Iraq. But it is Zevin’s deft exploration of the fragile economy of family life that makes this a book for the ages.
“Blazing . . . Sharp . . . a Corrections for our recessionary times . . . [Zevin] establishes herself as an astute chronicler of the way we spend now.” —Publishers Weekly, starred review

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780802197894
Publisher: Grove/Atlantic, Inc.
Publication date: 03/09/2010
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 288
Sales rank: 720,910
File size: 2 MB

About the Author

Zevin is the author of two award-winning young adult novels, Elsewhere and Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac. She is also the author of Margarettown, a novel. Her books books have been lauded everywhere from coast to coast by reviewers, and her work has been translated into eighteen languages. She is also a filmmaker, and lives in New York City.


New York, New York

Date of Birth:

October 24, 1977

Place of Birth:

Poughkeepsie, New York


A.B. in English and American Literature, Harvard College, 2000

Read an Excerpt


PART I The Red House

Oh baby, baby, how was I supposed to know that something wasn't right here?


... that ellipsis tells a tale.


A June and Six Septembers

MIDWAY THROUGH HIS son's graduation from college, somewhere between the Ns and the Os, Roger Pomeroy decided that he owed it to himself to go back to school. He was forty-two years old, though people told him at least once a week that he looked younger. Last Christmas, a salesgirl had mistaken his then nineteen-year-old daughter for his wife. Last week, a different salesgirl had mistaken his forty-one-year-old wife for his mother. He knew it wasn't flattery, because in both instances the salesgirls had already made their sales: respectively, a flannel nightgown (wife's Christmas) and a leather fanny pack (son's graduation). And, at work — Roger was an assistant principal at the same Christian high school that his two older children had attended — all the girls flirted with him no matter how much he discouraged the practice.

His wife, George (née Georgia), nudged him. "You're supposed to be standing." Roger looked at the crowd, then past it to the dais. A flag was being raised. Everyone was standing, so Roger stood.

The more he thought about it, the more it made sense to do it now. Roger had completed a master's in education while working full-time, but if he wanted to get really serious (that is to say, a PhD) he would have to take leave. He had three children: Vincent, the son who was graduating; Helen, who would be a college junior the following year; and Patricia, age ten, the baby of the family though hardly a baby anymore. In any case, the kids were mostly grown, which meant two fewer mouths to feed. And if George had to work a couple of extra hours — here, he paused to smile at his wife. The smile was meant to acknowledge the official magnitude of the occasion, A Son's Graduation from College, but George immediately detected the ulterior in it. She grinned back.

Roger lowered his thoughts to a whisper. If George had to work a couple of extra hours, it would ultimately be for the best. With a PhD, Roger would earn more money, which meant the wife could retire altogether. Based on the time it had taken him to complete his master's, Roger estimated three years for a doctorate. He had been a family man for twenty-two years, over half his life. He had never cheated at anything, marriage included. He was an honorary pastor at their church and considered himself to be a better-than-average Christian. He had made sacrifices for others and now, he reckoned, sacrifices should be made for him.

George squeezed her husband's hand. "Earth to Roger," she whispered. "Your son's next."

They called Vinnie's name, and Roger applauded. He had missed his own graduation from college because George had gone into labor with the boy. It seemed fitting and good that he had come to this decision on this day.

Caps flew through the air and Roger's eyes filled with tears. The youngest, Patsy, was standing on the other side of him. He lifted her over his shoulders so that she could better see the show.

"Daddy," Patsy said. She placed her doll hands on his cheeks. "Are you crying because you're still mad at Vinnie?"

"No, I'm just happy, baby."

* * *

FIFTEEN MONTHS LATER, Roger moved his family from Tennessee to Texas and began the PhD program at Teacher's College, Texas University. He loved being full-time and working forms of the word matriculate into casual conversation. He was a sucker for anything (mugs, mouse pads, tube socks) with the Fighting Yellow Devils logo, despite the fact that these items were sold at a premium. If he could have afforded and gotten his wife to agree to it, he would have lived in student housing.

No doubt about it, the first year was difficult financially. The move alone had drained a good portion of their savings. But, by the second year, Roger had a decent teaching stipend amounting to fifteen thousand dollars per annum — less than a third of what he had taken in as an assistant principal, but combined with low-interest student loans, high-interest credit cards, a cashed-in retirement plan, and George's job, not bad. And besides, he wouldn't be a student forever. Just three years. Or four. Certainly no more than four.

After a summer of soul searching, Roger settled on a topic for his dissertation September of his fifth year. He would study the differences between kids who had attended schools with a religious component and kids who hadn't. The topic was near to his heart: Patsy, now nearly sixteen, was going to a public school because no acceptable religious one had been found within a thirty-mile radius of Texas U. Roger's standards for such an institution were very high indeed.

For the record, it was not an extraordinarily slow pace at which to complete a PhD. It was on the fast side of average, though it had obviously exceeded Roger's initial estimates.

George asked him if he might consider going back to work fulltime while writing the dissertation. Roger declined. He had a lot of research to do, and he believed the whole enterprise would go more quickly if he could just focus. One other thing: upon reading his proposal, his adviser, the distinguished professor Carolyn Murray, had commented, "There just might be a book in this, Rog." He was embarrassed by how many times he'd repeated these words to himself. Despite the comfort he took in them, Roger chose not to share them with his wife. Instead, he imagined the following scene:

Roger, who has not yet turned fifty but regardless looks much younger, has taken Georgia to the nicest restaurant in town.

"Can we afford this?" George asks after a cursory look at the menu.

Roger nods and encourages the woman to order whatever she wants.

"Well, if you're certain ..."

"I am, George. I am."

After dessert is served, Roger casually reaches under the table and pulls a published book out from under it.

"What's this?" she asks.

"It's a book," he says. {Alternatively, he says, "It's all our dreams come true," though this line effectually ends the scene, and Roger prefers to draw it out.}

George looks at the book. "But, it has your name on the cover."

"That's because it's my book, George. It's our book, and it's going to make us very, very rich."

"Why, Roger," she says, "I didn't even know you were writing a book!"

"I wanted to keep it a secret until I was sure," he says, turning back the cover with a jaunty flick of the wrist. "Read this ..."

George puts on her glasses: "To my family, especially my wife, Georgia, without whom there would be no book. And to our Lord Savior, Jesus Christ, without whom there would be no life." George clears her throat. {Sometimes, the dedication continues: And to Professor Carolyn Murray, who supported this book in its infancy ... And sometimes not. His wife's hypothetical retort, "Roger, who's Carolyn Murray?" pushed the scene in an unusual and frankly somewhat undesirable direction.}

"And look" — Roger flips to the back flap — "your name's here, too. I've used the picture you took of me at Helen's wedding for my author photo.You're a professional photographer, George!" {He considers this to be a particularly nice touch, including her in the process as it did.}

George's voice is husky with emotion. "Come here, you wonderful, wonderful man!"

"Roger." The dream was deferred by Professor Murray's latest assistant: a skinny, pimple-scarred, faux-hawked, gay (or so Roger suspected), overpriced-glasses-wearing, twenty-four-year-old kid, who claimed his name was Cherish. The kid was also at approximately the same place in the PhD program as Roger. "Carolyn will see you now."

Her office was nice enough, but nothing special: furniture made of wood and not the particleboard rubbish that cluttered the offices of the junior faculty and staff; a brown leather chair with just the right patina; a Tiffany- style lamp; framed and matted reproductions by O'Keefe and Gauguin; a photograph of the professor with Laura Bush, the governor's wife; another with Coretta Scott King; a humdinger of a group shot that included First Lady Hillary Clinton, poet laureate Maya Angelou, and Betty Friedan, taken at a women's education summit in Washington, DC; a rather phallic pillar candle scented in cucumber-melon; an Oriental (Roger wondered if the term was offensive ...) rug on the floor that almost managed to distract from the gray industrial carpet that plagued even the most attractive parts of campus; a first-class view of the university chapel and memorial gardens. It really is nothing special, he thought, but it really should be mine.

He had the same birthday as Professor Murray: March 12, though she was five years older than him. This fact had been revealed under somewhat embarrassing circumstances during Roger's second year in the program. At the end of one of her famous lecture classes, her inner circle of students, a group that did not include Roger, arranged for a surprise cake. Roger stood when he saw the cake speeding through the door on the borrowed AV cart. How had they known it was his birthday? He was giddy with astonishment and pleasure. The cake made its way down the aisle, sweet and white as a bride, and he felt nearly like he had on his wedding day. And then, it passed him by. Roger wondered if he should follow it to the front: Is that how these things were done? That was when the singing began. By the third line, it became clear that the cake had never been for him. He clapped his hands and tapped his foot in time to the music as if this had been his reason for standing all along.

"Come in, Rog," Professor Murray called. "Sit."

He obeyed.

She looked him up and down in a manner that struck Roger as not quite professional. "My, you're looking well!"

For the record, Carolyn Murray was a handsome woman, though Roger had never been attracted to the kind of women who were thought to be handsome women. She was ten pounds past slim, but she carried the extra weight well. Her suit was well cut, like her gray, curly hair, and its fabric expensive. It was not the kind of suit that often made an appearance at Roger's church or in his wife's closet. Even Professor Murray only wore the suit on lecture days, a custom in which Roger perceived gentility. At that moment, she had her shoes off and her feet displayed like a pair of knickknacks on the cluttered cherry desk. Roger could see a hole the size of a dime in her black stockings. It was just over the pad below her big toe, and its presence struck him as obscene. He wanted very badly to cover it up but settled for repositioning himself so he could no longer see it.

Although she was an ordinary enough specimen for a liberal arts college, Roger was a bit dazzled by her — that hole notwithstanding. He had spent his education (and, by extension, his life) in religious settings where the native birds tended to be of a different sort.

"So, Rog," she said, "I've been thinking of you."

Roger cleared his throat. He wasn't sure how to respond.

Professor Murray took her feet off the desk and tucked them away from Roger. She laughed a little to herself, then said, "Your work. I've been thinking of your dissertation proposal."

Roger cleared his throat again.

"Are you ill?" she asked.

Roger cleared his throat a third time. "I'm ...," he began. "What have you been thinking?"

"Well ..." — she removed the proposal from her top desk drawer — "I've made some notes." The top sheet was scarred with red ink. Roger couldn't make out the words — Professor Murray's handwriting was indulgently illegible in the style of MDs and PhDs worldwide — but he could see many exclamation points and even more question marks.

"I thought you liked it." Roger tried not to sound childish, but did not succeed.

"I do, Roger. Very much. I think I mentioned to you when last we spoke that there might even be a book in it."

He conceded remembering something of the sort.

"Though the truth is, I think this topic might be broader and require more resources than what your standard dissertation allows," Professor Murray said. "In addition to library work, I foresee you conducting research trips, and you'll probably want several grad students to conduct interviews, and of course you'll need a good statistician. Have you put any thought into a good statistician?"

Roger had planned to run the statistics himself. He had taken an introductory statistics class in college and had recently purchased Statistics for Dummies as a refresher. He sensed that this would not be an acceptable response to the eminent professor's query. "I had not," he said.

"Well, I know a good one." Professor Murray made yet another note on Roger's proposal. "The thing is, Roger, I fear you may be a bit out of your depth here."

"Oh." Roger looked at his sneakers. His wife had purchased them in a back-to-school shopping trip that had also included a backpack for his youngest daughter. If worn more than two days in a row, the shoes, which were man-made in China, began to smell.

"Now, don't look so gloomy," Professor Murray said. "I think we can help each other."

Here, the professor took off her glasses and switched her voice to tones normally reserved for the classroom. "You're no doubt aware that there's a growing movement in this country to send children to religious schools. In the seventies and eighties, we saw parochial schools closing in record numbers. And now, for the first time in decades, we're seeing a small but significant number of new ones popping up. What accounts for this? Even in nonreligious settings, they're reintroducing prayer in the classroom whilst removing sexual education and The Catcher in the Rye, and, well, I suspect this reflects larger trends in our society, yada yada yada. My point is, Rog, I think you may have hit upon something incredibly fecund here."

Fecund was good. Roger giggled. The professor had a charming bit of Brooklyn in her speech that revealed itself when she was excited and only in words like fecund.

"You're smiling. What?"

Oh, what the heck, Roger thought. "Did anyone ever say that you, uh, sound like a lawyer?"

She widened her eyes in mock horror. "No!"

"No, I said that wrong. Not a lawyer. The lawyer. From the O.J. trial" — the Jewish one, he wanted to say, but he wasn't sure if that was racist — "I don't remember the name."

"Marcia Clark?"


The professor gathered her curly hair into a loose bun. He considered telling her that he liked her hair that way but decided it wouldn't be appropriate.

"You're a fundamentalist Christian, am I right?" Professor Murray asked.

"Well ... Yes." Roger furrowed his brow in a way he both hoped and didn't hope would be observed.

"Did I say something wrong?"

"No. It's just, we're called Sabbath Day Adventists."

"So you're not a fundamentalist Christian?"

"I am. It's the same thing really." All at once, he realized he didn't wish to be having this discussion with this woman. "It doesn't matter. Go on."

"Don't ever be afraid to correct me, Roger. If the other term is more precise, that's what I'll use. And before you came here, you taught for twenty or so years in a Sabbath Day Adventist" — she paused to receive the approval Roger was overly eager to bestow — "high school?"

"Twenty-one years," Roger said. "And for half of those, I wasn't a teacher. I was an assistant principal."

Carolyn laughed, though Roger didn't think he'd said anything particularly funny. "How marvelous," she said. "Were you aware that I am a nonpracticing Jew?"

It was Alan Dershowitz, he thought.

"And now I like to call myself a weekend Buddhist, which is to say, I go on a lot of yoga retreats."

Roger wasn't sure if he was supposed to laugh.

"The point is, Rog, I think we'd make a very good team."


"We should write this book together. I can offer you resources and experience and a different perspective and —"

In his mind, Roger crossed Jesus out of the dedication:

Revision 1

Roger casually reaches under the table and pulls a published book out from under it.

"What's this?" George asks.

"It's a book, George," he says. "Mine and this other woman's, Carolyn Murray's. You remember her from the GSE Christmas party? She said she loved your sweater, took great pains to find out where you got it. You thought it was Ross Dress for Less, but you couldn't remember for sure."

"Oh, right," George says. "Her." She cracks the crust of her crème brûlée before taking the tiniest bite. "You know, honey, I don't think she even liked my sweater."

"Well, she said she did," Roger replies. "But back to my book. It's going to make us very, very rich."

"Us and Carolyn Murray," George corrects him.

"What about my dissertation?" Roger asked quietly.


Excerpted from "The Hole We're In"
by .
Copyright © 2010 Gabrielle Zevin.
Excerpted by permission of Grove Atlantic, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

PART I The Red House,
A June and Six Septembers,
April II,
PART II What's a Nice Girl Like You Doing in a War Like This?,
Patsy at the Airport,
Patsy on the Road,
Patsy among Friends,
Patsy in Bed,
Patsy Pays the Bills,
Patsy Attends Church,
Patsy Calls on Her Father and a Sick Friend,
Patsy Gets a Job,
Patsy Gets Fired,
Patsy Visits Her Mother and Does Some Last-minute Christmas Shopping,
Patsy Makes a Phone Call,
PART III A Relative Paradise,
Helen before Dawn,
George in the Morning,
Vinnie at Lunch and After,
Magnum in the Afternoon,
Roger at the End of the Day,
George Just before Sleep,
PART IV Baby One More Time,
Closing Time at the Hoot and Holler,
Second Opinion,
Orange City,
A Nice Place in Maryland,

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

“Equal parts sharply funny and sobering, Zevin’s portrait of a family in financial free fall captures the zeitgeist.”—People

“Every day newspaper articles chronicle families battered by the recession, circling the drain in unemployment and debt or scraping by with minimum-wage jobs. But no novel has truly captured that struggle until now. . . . [Zevin’s characerts]—flawed, devoted, cranky, impetuous, utterly relatable—come blazingly alive . . . [in this chronicle of] how a once-loving family reacts when times get bad.”—Tina Jordan, Entertainment Weekly (A-)

“In the provocative novel The Hole We’re In . . . Gabrielle Zevin follows the Pomeroy [family] from 1998 to 2022 and addresses such issues as abortion, racism, and the emotional fallout of a stress-filled economy. Yet somehow the novel feels generous: We identify with the Pomeroys’ troubles while we gasp at their casual brutality and marvel at [youngest daughter] Patsy, who journeys from oppressive Bible schools to military service in Iraq and, finally, to becoming a more loving mother than her own could have dreamed of being.”—O, The Oprah Magazine

The Hole We’re In criticizes our rabid consumer culture, as well as the people who’ve bought into it without examining the actual or hidden costs. . . . Zevin’s writing is often surprisingly, if darkly, funny, thanks to her wry and astute cultural observations. . . . [Main character] Patsy is flawed like the rest of her family, but she also has complex thoughts and tries to live without hypocrisy . . . Zevin breathes real life into this tough-girl vet, a heroine for our times, recognizable from life but new to fiction.”—Malena Watrous, The New York Times Book Review

“It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what is so compelling about Gabrielle Zevin’s new novel. Merely summarizing the plot doesn’t do the book justice—it’s far more gripping than you’d expect from a family drama about the consequences of falling deeper and deeper into credit card debt. The real force of the novel, aside from Zevin’s elegant, no-words-wasted prose, comes from her complicated, multifaceted characters, who have an astonishing capacity for extremes of both generous and selfish behavior.”—Bookpage

"The Hole We're In is a story of financial lives, and it makes plain that the financial life of a family is just as important as, if not more important than, its religious life. Even more surprising: It's just as compelling as a novel that is primarily concerned with the emotional life of an American family. The Hole We're In feels current, like fresh journalism, a mirror held to modern times."—Paul Constant, The Stranger

“A sharp, funny, and timely look at a debt-ridden, God-fearing American family. . . . Zevin skewers a host of social issues from religious zealotry to the consequences of war to the entitlement mind-set of average Americans. What makes her book more than just a satire, though, is the deft way she thoroughly humanizes her characters. Readers will relate to and be moved by a beleaguered family’s attempts to climb out of debt and dysfunction.”—Booklist

“Blazing . . . Sharp . . . The Corrections for our recessionary times. . . . [Zevin] establishes herself as an astute chronicler of the way we spend now.”—Publishers Weekly

“An unforgettable novel about flawed characters desperate to get back to the garden of an idealized American Eden—where debts are forgiven, family secrets remain buried, everyone gets a good credit rating and a higher education, and spiritual redemption can be achieved with a new coat of paint.”—Stephanie Kallos, author of Broken For You and Sing Them Home

“Gabrielle Zevin’s sentences burst like fireworks off the page. Smart, sassy, and wise, The Hole We’re In is a delightful treat.”—Amanda Eyre Ward, author of How To Be Lost and Love Stories in this Town

“An unflinching depiction of an All-American family. Hypocritical, debt-ridden, God-fearing—there might not be much to admire about Zevin's characters, but there is much to love about them. The Hole We're In is a compelling read, and a true and honest novel.”—Binnie Kirshenbaum, author of The Scenic Route

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The Hole We're In 3.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 11 reviews.
Miepheas More than 1 year ago
This book is well written with characters that I will remember. The subject matter is so pertinent today and told in way that I found very appealing. If you like your fiction funny and gritty you will enjoy peeking into this family's life as much as I did.
Mrs_ASmith More than 1 year ago
As the previous review indicated, the story has plenty of dramatic and depressing moments. But for once, I have found a fictional story that reminds me of someone's real life...with a Real Life ending. The first 10 mins after reading the novel, I was highly upset that a few of the characters' secrets were never revealed. But then I realized that this is EXACTLY how it would have happened in today's American Family (my own included). Unfortunately, some people are bound to take their secrets to the grave. :)
Coyote99 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Wow. I had read about this book and all the comments were favorable, but I was not prepared for how much I liked it. While all of the characters are flawed, and only one is remotely likeable, Zevin manages to make the reader understand why they make such horrible choices and what just a few bad decisions can do. Sometimes tragic, sometimes funny, it is a really great read.
tarasullivan on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The Pomeroy family is an upstanding clan, members of a Sabbath Adventist Church and seemingly high fuctioning and happy. Can one bad decision change the course of their entire futures? I am still marveling that this was written by a young woman...her insights and observations are stultifyingly keen. Highly recommend.
chuewyc on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Interesting read on today's family
ennie on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I saw Zevin's movie "Conversations With Other Women" and heard the author herself during Spirit Awards season a few years ago. This novel is about the Pomeroy family, who struggle to make ends meet. I liked the beginning segment on the family's crazy debt more than the end focusing on the Iraq War-vet daughter.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I really enjoyed the idea of this book, but i soon became bored of it and found some of the parts were somewhat slow. Also I found that the ending was very odd.
aimlyss More than 1 year ago
Okay book, I enjoyed it enough to finish reading it, but wouldn't recommend it. I didn't like the writing style and the ending was just plain odd. The characters seemed so disconnected from life and therefore, I didn't care one way or another about what happened to any of them. I can't imagine a family this dysfunctional, but I do suppose they exist.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
jtravo More than 1 year ago
This was a depressing, demoralizing story with no happy ending. I expected to sympathize/emphathize with the characters as our own society continues to degrade morally, financially and ethically. However, I did not feel sorry for these people or how they handled any situation. The hole got deeper and deeper and there was no hope or way out. I was completely depressed upon completing the book!