The Hole in the Middle
The Hole in the Middle by Kate Hilton
Kindle Edition, 293 pages
Published August 6th 2013 by HarperCollins Canada
Sophie Whelan is the epitome of the modern superwoman. When she operates at peak performance, she can cajole balky employees, soothe her cranky children, troubleshoot career disasters, throw a dinner party for ten and draft an upbeat Christmas letter — all in the same day.
But as Sophie’s fortieth birthday looms, her seamless life reveals disturbing web-like fractures. Conflict with her boss, blossoming jealousy of her husband’s femme fatale business partner and her feelings of hopeless inadequacy as a mother and daughter are cracking the edifice of her life.
Rescue may be at hand when Lillian Parker, a wealthy widow who befriended Sophie during her university days, makes Sophie an irresistible offer. Why, then, does Sophie hesitate? The answer is the reappearance of Lillian’s nephew, Will Shannon, the great unresolved love of Sophie’s life. As she remembers the vivid drama of their college romance, Sophie confronts the choices she has made in life and in love and looks for the one answer that has always eluded her: what does she really want?
The Hole in the Middle is a heartbreaking love story, a laugh-out loud portrayal of the twin demands of work and family and a fresh take on the hot debate about having it all.
(originally posted on December 17, 2013)
I loved my look at the corporate world, from the viewpoint of a woman who is trying to do it all. She's an executive in a large hospital as well as being a wife, mother, and friend. She is struggling to be it all for all those people in her life who are counting on her.
More alarming, I can feel an aching weariness in my chest. I've noticed it with some regularity lately, and it makes me nervous. Some days it's just a knot of anxiety, but today it feels like the hole in the middle of a donut: empty but for the wind whistling through it.
I love it when I find that little tidbit that ties the title to the story.
Sophie is having a difficult time in her marriage, her family life (kiddos and mother issues), her job, (her boss and her assistants are both an issue). She muddles through it but eventually has to stop and figure out what is really important.
Part of the story is told in flashbacks to the time when she was a student at university. The people she knew then are still a big part of her life now. I really liked that part of the story. The flashbacks give the reader a sense of how Sophie got to be where she is now and to understand how important all of these people are to her.
I absolutely loved Lillian, the elderly widow who knew Sophie way back when and is still involved in her life. She does whatever she wants to and has fun doing it. She also shares her thoughts about the 'hole in the middle' - that stage of life called 'the donut years'. I want to have a Lillian in my life!
One of my favorite passages is this one. Such wisdom.
'With love, it's not the why the matters. It's the how. It's the million of ways we reach out and connect with the people we love and try to make them happy and protect them from harm.'
I love Kate's writing and really enjoyed reading The Hole in the Middle. I look forward to reading whatever she writes next.
Welcome to The Book Bag! I like to ask authors this question and I love to hear their responses. It's wonderful to get into an author's mind, even for just a little bit.
I have heard other authors say that they 'hear voices in their head' and that is how they write their books: the characters are telling their stories. Not being a writer myself, that concept has always intrigued me.
When some people hear voices, we get them medical attention, others end up becoming writers. Does this happen to you? How do you come up with your stories?
Since I first published my novel, The Hole in the Middle, I've been asked countless times whether or not the characters are based on real people. It’s flattering, actually, since it suggests to me that I've done my job in bringing the characters to vivid life outside my own head.
The Hole in the Middle is the story of Sophie Whelan, a working mom approaching her 40th birthday, who begins to wonder about the choices she has made in life and love. Over the course of a very bad week, she grapples with workplace politics, daycare woes, marital strife and the return of Will Shannon, the great, unresolved romance of her college years. Think ‘I Don’t Know How She Does It’ for the ‘This is 40’ generation.
For this post, I was asked to talk about ‘the voices in my head’. As a new writer, I can attest to the fact that characters have a way of taking over, once you open the door to them. They muscle their way into your mind while you are doing other things; in my case, cooking, walking and riding on the subway are activities that seem to offer a particularly irresistible invitation. When people ask me how I came to write my novel, I tell them that it began with my characters, who buzzed around in my head until I figured out what they wanted me to do with them.
Take Lillian Parker, for example. She’s a single, independent woman in her eighties, with an iron will and a mischievous streak. She is both Sophie’s fairy godmother and her guide to the art of happy living. Says Lillian to Sophie of her midlife malaise:
“My cousin Eleanor used to call your stage of life ‘the donut years’. The first half of life is about getting as far away from your past as you can. And then, just when you've established yourself as a full-fledged adult, a hole opens up in the middle of life and the past comes rushing back in. By the time you’re my age, if you aren't careful, the past is more real than the present.”
“What do I do?” I ask.
“You make your peace with it,” she says.
And then there’s the one that got away, the beautiful, commitment-phobic (or is he?) Will Shannon. His voice is a little husky and a lot sexy. He’s smart and observant, but he doesn't reveal much about himself. He’s the kind of person who somehow persuades you to do the things you know you shouldn't do:
He studies me, and then says, “I was going to sneak out for a cigarette. Want to come?”
“I don’t smoke,” I say.
“Neither do I,” he says.
“OK,” I say, and we put on our coats and go out to the back patio. I brush the snow off the deck chairs and we sit. “I’m not sure I remember how to do this,” I say.
“It’s like riding a bike,” says Will, shaking a cigarette from the package with a practiced tap. His lighter flashes in the dark. He takes a second cigarette out of the package, lights it with the tip of his own, and hands it to me. “So,” he says.
As for Sophie herself, she’s funny, sharply observant and just a bit neurotic. She’s good with a comeback. Here she is arguing with her best friend Zoe about the source of her angst:
“I’ll humor you,” I say. “Let’s say for the sake of argument that I’m having a midlife crisis. What would you suggest I do then?”
“Any number of things,” says Zoe. “You could change jobs, obviously, to something either less stressful or more meaningful. Or you could find ways to make the rest of your life more fulfilling, by getting a hobby or taking a class with me once in a while. You could train for a marathon, or take up kick-boxing or write mommy porn. You could have an affair with your assistant, but that’s more of a guy thing.”
“You obviously haven’t met my assistant,” I say.
For the record, while Sophie, Lillian, Will, Zoe and their fellow characters are very real to me, they are pure products of my imagination. But that hasn't made their company any less enjoyable. In fact, it’s a bit sad to move them aside to make room for new characters to come into being. But I like to think that they've moved on to take up space in the minds of their readers.
I show up at Sara’s house around eight, and book club is in full swing. I've come straight from the office, and my prescription is still in my purse. I’d say that I haven’t had time to fill it, but even I know that for once, lack of time isn't the issue.
I ring the bell. Zoe answers and steps out onto the porch with me for a moment. “I was hoping it was you,” she says. “I’m not ready to tell anyone else about what’s going on with Richard, OK?” She gestures toward the house, where the rest of the book club is waiting.
“Of course,” I say. And in any event, I feel a little fuzzy on the details of Zoe’s marital crisis. Lunch feels as though it happened a week and not six hours ago.
“How are you feeling?” I ask.
She shrugs. “It helped to see you at lunch,” she says. “But I think this is one of those situations where it’s going to keep feeling worse until something big changes. I’m just not ready to think about what the something big is.” I give her a hug, and we go in. “Look everyone,” she calls. “It’s a special guest appearance by Sophie!” She drags me into the living room, where the rest of the book club bursts into enthusiastic applause.
“I haven’t read the book,” I say.
“Don’t be silly,” says Laura. “No one ever reads the book.”
“I do,” says Sara pointedly. “And it would be great if we could make a tiny effort to talk about it once in a while, even for five minutes. Hi, Soph.” She pauses. “What did you do to your arm?”
“I sprained my wrist,” I say. “It’s nothing.”
“What was the book again?” asks Laura.
Sara raises an eyebrow. “Are you really interested, or are you just trying to humor me?”
Laura laughs. “Was it good?”
“Not especially,” says Sara. “We can stop talking about it now. What’s Megan going on about?”
Like Sara, Megan is one of my old friends from the student newspaper, and I've caught her in mid-rant. Nora is leaning back slightly to avoid Megan’s violent gesticulations, which are, as usual, aimed at hapless, absent Bob: “And then he looks into the stroller and says, ‘I’m starting to get to the point where I remember that he’s around. Do you know what I mean?’ And I think, ‘What kind of fucking question is that? It’s kind of hard for me to forget that our baby is around when he’s hanging off my tit 24/7, but I guess you don’t have that problem, do you Bob?’ Honestly! I just looked at him and said ‘I have absolutely no idea what you are talking about.’”
Megan takes a breath, looks around, and realizes that she is the main attraction. “Hi, Sophie,” she says. “Good to see you.”
I wave. “Still married?”
Megan snorts. “Barely,” she says, but she smiles a little before turning back to Nora to continue itemizing Bob’s shortcomings as a husband and father.
“What can I get you to drink?” asks Zoe. “Prosecco?” I nod, and she disappears into the kitchen. I sit down next to Sara.
“How have you been?” she asks.
“Bad day to ask,” I say. “I’d say I've been stressed to the point of hysteria, while at the same time struggling to find enough meaning in my work to justify my level of anxiety. I mean, shouldn't you have to care about a job to get this worked up about it?”
“Of course not!” Zoe reappears with my glass and plops down on the sofa with us. “Do you remember the I Love Lucy episode where Lucy and Ethel are working on an assembly line at a chocolate factory? No? You know the scene in Pretty Woman where Richard Gere takes Julia Roberts up to the penthouse for the first time, and they have a fight, and then they make up, and then they stay up late watching TV?”
“Oh, yeah,” says Sara. “Right before she gives him the blow job.”
“Exactly. That moment where you think, am I really supposed to be rooting for these two to get together in the end?”
“Totally.” Megan and Nora have finished with Bob and rejoin the group. “But they aren't watching the chocolate factory episode,” Megan says. “They’re watching the wine-making one, where Lucy runs around in a giant barrel and throws grapes at everyone.”
Zoe rolls her eyes. “The point I’m making,” she says, with the deliberate enunciation of a woman who has had too much Prosecco, “is that the chocolate factory is a perfect example of a job that is both stressful and meaningless. The chocolate starts coming faster and faster and they can’t wrap it quickly enough, and by the end they are stuffing the chocolates down their shirts and in their mouths and looking completely panic-stricken, but to no real end.”
“And this relates to Sophie’s job how?” asks Laura.
Zoe waves her hand vaguely. “Email, voicemail, staff meetings – the whole tedious routine is a modern-day, white-collar version of the conveyor belt.”
“Well, that’s a pretty bleak assessment,” I say.
“Only if you plan to be stuck beside the conveyor belt for the rest of your life,” says Zoe. “But since you don’t actually work in a chocolate factory, you have a few options. And if you would admit that you are having a midlife crisis, you could start looking at ways to change it up.”
“I’m not having a midlife crisis,” I say.
Laura laughs. “Everyone’s having a midlife crisis, Sophie,” she says. “You might as well join the club.”
About the author
Kate Hilton has worked in law, higher education, public relations, fundraising and publishing. She has an English degree from McGill University and a law degree from the University of Toronto. She holds down a day job, volunteers for community organizations, raises two boys, cooks, collects art, reads voraciously and likes her husband. In her free time, she writes. On good days, she thinks she might have it all. On bad days, she wants a nap.
The Hole in the Middle is Kate’s first book. Kate is represented by Beverley Slopen of the Beverley Slopen Literary Agency in Toronto.
Connect with Kate
*Anyone who leaves a comment on the tour page (click here) will be entered to win a $20 Amazon gift card! Anyone who purchases their copy of The Hole in the Middle before January 27 and sends their receipt to Samantha (at) ChickLitPlus (dot) com will get 5 bonus entries!*
Be sure to check the sidebar for my current giveaways!