LIANE HANSEN, Host:
This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Liane Hansen.
GABRIELLE ZEVIN: (Reading) You spend your whole life trying to get out of holes - the hole you're born into because of who your parents are, the hole you dig yourself trying to get out of that first hole. The hole your children are born into is the saddest hole of all.
HANSEN: That's Gabrielle Zevin reading from her new novel, "The Hole We're In."
HANSEN: Vinnie, Helen and Patsy. The adjective dysfunctional only begins to describe this family, so Gabrielle Zevin is in our New York bureau to tell us a lot more. Welcome to the program.
ZEVIN: Thank you so much for having me.
HANSEN: Patsy, the youngest, has spent most of her life digging herself out of one hole or into another. Let's talk about her. What kind of hole is she born into?
ZEVIN: I think she's born into a hole that comes from the fact that her parents don't have much money. And you can sort of purchase your way out of situations if you have money to do that. And so the biggest hole I think she comes across is when she tries to go to college, finds that she cannot get a scholarship because of a series of events that happened in the book and ends up in the military.
HANSEN: Yeah. First of all, her father Roger is a preacher and very strict. And he decides he wants to go get a Ph.D., which basically leaves the family in a financial hole. His wife Georgia opens credit cards in the kids' names. So, I mean, Patsy basically, she's kind of the renegade of the family anyway and she had to join the army to go to college.
ZEVIN: Yeah. I think she's put in a situation where she has to be the renegade. I don't think she was born to be an iconoclast or anything. It just was her lot in life to be such.
HANSEN: What hole does she dig for herself?
ZEVIN: Oh boy.
ZEVIN: But, you know, some of the holes, she marries very young. You know, I'm not sure if that's just a hole she digs to try to escape her family. She has a child very young, you know, and she has to take jobs and think about things because of that. You know, so, it really is a never-ending hole and it keeps getting bigger and bigger. You know, there's a story that in the book and it's about, I think it's an Isaac Bashevis Singer folk tale about cutting the holes out of a big cloth.
HANSEN: Yeah. If a guy finds a small hole in his pants and he's not quite sure what to do with it and the tailor says, oh, and cuts a bigger hole.
ZEVIN: That's right. You know, so I think that's kind of what happens too to Patsy.
HANSEN: Yeah. The novel develops from what characters to who the characters are. In other words, we read about their experiences before we really know who they are. And we gradually find out that everyone things they did their best and they tell us why. Did you perceive, like, family life as a Rashomon tale? I mean, as the Japanese theater tradition of one story told from different perspectives?
ZEVIN: Yes. I definitely think that family is Rashomon-like, for sure. But I think even more important is the idea that, especially George - I've read reviews where they refer to her as a monster. And I thought of her as a woman who is trying to do the best under extremely difficult circumstances.
HANSEN: And she reveals, really, a lot about herself toward the end of the book and you almost begin to understand where she was coming from. I mean, you know, first of all, she'd get the bill, she'd put them in a drawer and leave them alone, she opens credit cards in her kids' name and then runs them up. So, the kids have a bad credit rating. On the surface, yeah, that's horrible. But Georgia, you know, she really thinks that she did her best.
ZEVIN: I think she does think that she did her best and yet she also seems to be slightly more self-aware than her husband, you know, because he definitely thinks he did his best and she knows that she has certainly failed at least two of her three children probably in larger and small ways.
HANSEN: Are we supposed to feel sorry for the parents who tried to justify how they raised their kids by saying they did their best?
ZEVIN: I feel sorry for parents. I don't know if the book means that you're supposed to feel sorry for them. I hope you feel sympathy for them. I don't really expect people to feel empathy for them because they do some things that are fairly terrible. But I think all parents do the best they can with what they have.
HANSEN: And you keep bringing in Adam and Eve. I mean, this also feels like a creation story.
ZEVIN: Yeah, you know, in a way. It wasn't particularly intentional, except that every story is, in some respect, a creation story but in terms of the temptation aspect. That the things that tempt us aren't always so obvious, like a snake, you know?
ZEVIN: That they can be these small things. Like I think that Roger, at the beginning of the book, he wants to go back to school. You know, he wants something for himself. He feels like he's gotten his kids to this point. You know, so his snake is such a small snake really. It's such a modest snake. But unfortunately, it's a snake he can't afford.
HANSEN: Do you think a financial hole is more important than, say, an emotional or psychological hole?
ZEVIN: You know, I think it's funny how much a financial hole creates all of these other holes. I think debt really is such an emotional thing for people and such a spiritual thing. And so, you know, I do feel like they all effect each other, yeah.
HANSEN: The novel is "The Hole We're In." The author is Gabrielle Zevin, who joined us from our New York bureau. Thank you very much.
ZEVIN: Thank you.
HANSEN: You can read about Roger's decision to go to graduate school - his family finances be damned - on our Web site, NPR.org.
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