Thursday, October 4, 2018

"Hole in the Middle"

Kendra Fortmeyer grew up in the lush woods of North Carolina, surrounded by piles of books. She got the idea for her magical realist YA debut novel, Hole in the Middle, after a mediocre date, and also after her left lung unexpectedly collapsed. On a related note, she would like you to know that your body is spectacular and if anyone tells you otherwise, you may kick them in the teeth.

Fortmeyer applied the Page 69 Test to Hole in the Middle and reported the following:
From page 69:
I perk up when Caro drops in the door that evening, looking frazzled in her Walgreens uniform and aquamarine eyeshadow. “Hi,” I say from the living room floor, where I’m crouching like Gollum in front of the easel. “Hi, hi, hi.”

“Hi, Castaway,” she says. She holds out an azure bottle. “This came from your mom. It’s supposed to be lotus and white tea, but I think it smells like feet, kind of?”

I glance at the label—ALANNA STONE VENUS RISING SPA FRAGRANCE. PRE-MARKET. NOT FOR RESALE – and set it to the side. Caro takes in my rainbow-smeared arms, the variously terrible paintings leaning up against the baseboards of the room, drying. “So,” she says, carefully. “How’s solitary confinement?”

I fling myself backwards onto the warped hardwood. “So boring. But now you’re home! Let’s hang out! Let’s watch vintage horror movies and make every flavor of popcorn!”

She collapses into the ratty rose-printed wingback chair we got at a yard sale. “I’m going to a show with Todd tonight at the Cat’s Cradle.”

“Noooooooo,” I moan.

“You’re welcome to come.”


She studies my painting. “Are those doughnuts?”

I sit up protectively, Secret Service-blocking the canvas with my body. “Maybe,” I say. “The gallery lady told me to make art from experience. This is me. Arting from experience.” I add, dramatically, “Arting from trauma.”

“Morgs, I don’t want to diminish your trauma—”

“Thank you. Kindly do not.”

Caro sighs. “Are you coming back to school on Monday?”
Does it pass the test?

Oh yes. In spades.

Hole in the Middle is a magical realist YA novel about a teen named Morgan who’s born with a hole through the middle of her body. The book is as much about body image as it is about the persistent feeling so many of us experience: that we’re missing an important piece of something in ourselves. A something that makes us different, often lesser, sometimes undeserving of love.

Page 69 of this book captures a key element of Morgan’s personality, which is precisely the element that made me feel different from my classmates as a teen: beneath her goofy, overly dramatic demeanor, she’s deeply, consumingly introverted.

As an introvert, it’s easy to feel like you’re consistently out of place in the world. Ours is a culture that unquestioningly privileges extroversion. Want to succeed professionally? Network, take up space in the room, be heard in meetings. Want to strengthen your college applications? Brush up your extracurriculars. Children with many friends are well adjusted; a child sitting alone at lunch is a sign that something’s wrong. Group projects. College roommates. Conferences. And so on.

Yes, literature has its fill of reluctant heroes – shy, smart, reclusive types who rise to save the day. But too often those heroes find themselves at the head of an army or a ragtag band of heroes, or at home with newfound friends. A neat narrative arc from lonely to found a place to fit in. The wish fulfilment fantasy of an extroverted world, trying to solve the perceived unhappiness of all us heckin’ introverts.

So it’s a pleasure, especially in a literary landscape that increasingly celebrates diverse characters and backgrounds, to write a character who’s a pure introvert: who likes and trusts a select few others (especially her best friend Caroline, seen above), and struggles with the pull between loneliness and feeling like she’s her truest self alone, painting and dreaming. And whose arc has nothing to do with conforming to the world’s standards, and everything to do with embracing her own powerful, singular truth.
Visit Kendra Fortmeyer's website.

--Marshal Zeringue