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.
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.”
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.
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