Sunday, January 12, 2020

"The Hollows"

Jess Montgomery is the Literary Life columnist for the Dayton Daily News and former Executive Director of the renowned Antioch Writers’ Workshop in Yellow Springs, Ohio. Based on early chapters of her novel The Widows, she was awarded an Ohio Arts Council individual artist’s grant for literary arts and the John E. Nance Writer-in-Residence at Thurber House in Columbus.

Montgomery applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, The Hollows, and reported the following:
From page 69:
A faint smile wavers on Mama’s lips as she pats Hildy’s hand. “Roger would want you to be happy. I don’t want you to mourn him forever. I want you to be happy, too.”

Oh God. Mama thinks she’s delaying a wedding date with Merle because of Roger.


She’d been so happy with Roger. His face—young, unmarred, handsome—rises before her. Something in his expression now seems to suggest that he’d never been meant long for the rough-and-tumble and furor and fury of this world.

As his face fades, the one replacing it is not stolid, older, steady Merle, but craggy, thin-faced, hard-etched Tom Whitcomb.

Hildy’s heart races, her palms sweating. She looks down, away from Mama, only to meet the eyes of the woman in her sketch and sees an approving glint in the eyes she’s imagined, the eyes she’s drawn, eyes that say, Yes, Tom.

“I can take care of the jailhouse and the children,” Mama is saying. “You get on over to the newspaper, then to the grocery.”

Hildy looks from the sketch back to Mama. Usually, Mama carries herself with resoluteness, but this morning, a thin gray strand of hair pulled loose from her dark bun makes her seem fragile. What would Mama think—if she knew about Tom? Suddenly her opinion matters to Hildy more than Merle’s or Mother’s. Or Lily’s.

Yet she must choose. She can’t remain with both Merle and Tom.

Roger would want you to be happy.
What strikes me at first from this passage from page 69 of The Hollows is that Lily Ross, the main protagonist of this novel and of the Kinship Mystery Series, is only mentioned once. In the novel, Lily is the sheriff of her county in 1926 Appalachian Ohio; her character is inspired by Ohio’s true first female sheriff in 1925.

It just so happens that this page is from the point of Hildy Cooper, Lily’s best childhood friend. Hildy was a secondary character in the series’ debut title, The Widows, offering sympathy and support for Lily. The Hollows has dual narrators, Lily and Hildy. (The first novel was narrated by Lily and another female character, Marvena.)

The second thought that strikes me from this passage is that though Lily is only mentioned once by name, she is woven throughout the page’s subtext. Mama is Lily’s mother; Roger was Lily’s older brother, killed in The Great War. He was also Hildy’s fiancé.

Hildy has remained not only friends with Lily, but embedded in her fiancé’s family, and how they see her matters to her, greatly and deeply.

The third thought is that on the surface, Hildy’s passage here reads as though she’s simply torn between two possible paramours—the socially acceptable Merle and the less socially acceptable Tom. But Hildy’s distress runs deeper than that. She is torn between continuing in the way she always has—acting as expected—and finally coming into her own identity, in touch with her own wishes and desires. Her quest is one of self-discovery and acceptance, even if it goes against the grain of kinship with friends and family as well as against the expectations of the society in Kinship, the county seat.

So, the tension between individual identity and community expectations, which is a theme of the novel and the series, plays out as well on this page.
Visit Jess Montgomery's website.

My Book, The Movie: The Widows.

--Marshal Zeringue