Kendra Fortmeyer’s 2019 Hole in the Middle is a coming-of-age magical realist novel.
Seventeen-year-old Morgan Stone always wears bulky, concealing clothes and avoids social interactions that could require showing skin. This isn’t because Morgan is a modern-day puritan. It is because Morgan was born with a hole through her lower torso and she does not care to find out how others will react to this oddity.
Adding to Morgan’s anxiety: years of failed medical treatments have surely sent the message that Morgan is imperfect and needs correction. In addition, Morgan’s mother’s career centers on assuring other women that physical perfection is attainable; Morgan, having failed to be physically or socially perfect, is clearly not trying hard enough. Finally, there is the matter of a father who abandoned Morgan and her mother when Morgan was an infant.
Tiring of isolation, Morgan decides to throw caution to the wind. She heads out for an evening of dancing, wearing a revealing top. The consequence? No angry mobs bearing torches and pitchforks. Instead, Morgan has an enjoyable night.
2019 being an era of social media, photos of Morgan dancing almost immediately hit the interwebs. The Hole Girl is an online sensation. Reactions do include hostile and perverse comments but also supportive ones. A charming young man begins courting Morgan. Being Hole Girl does not seem to be such a terrible thing.
Morgan needs this brief moment of success, because her life soon goes in an unexpected, unrequested direction. Doctor Parker Morse contacts Morgan and her doctor with unexpected news: Morse’s patient Howie has a rare genetic condition that is the exact opposite of Morgan’s. Morse is convinced she can cure both Howie and Morgan … and if Morgan doesn’t see why she should cooperate, those around her will provide Morgan with the firm guidance she clearly needs.
In defense of her mother and doctor1: the quest to find a cure for Hole isn’t driven entirely by a desire for relentless physical conformity and perfection. In Morgan’s case, the Hole traverses her without compromising any organs or skeletal structures on which her life depends. There’s a good chance that the reason Hole is so rare is because that is not true for most people with this particular condition. Also there is an tiny chance (unknowable because the condition is so rare) that Morgan’s condition will evolve in such a way as to become fatal.
On the other hand, Dr. Morse seems to be at least a little bonkers. It’s a pretty big jump from two patients having mirror-image conditions to believing that they can somehow cancel out each other’s genetic abnormality. Is there no laugh test in science? To compensate for her dubious thesis, Morse is also pretty pushy about drafting Morgan into her research project; unsurprisingly, consent gets examined from a number of angles in this novel. Medical consent is just one of those angles.
I am not really sure why this novel is being pitched as magical realism. The Hole is a bit unusual but not outside the range of possibility. I see it as a novel about issues people might plausibly encounter while growing up, like drifting apart from friends, the struggle to meet parental expectations2, online fame, distinguishing between genuine attraction and guys with weird fetishes, and (to quote an old movie) all that jazz. It’s a nice example of a book that is skillfully executed while being for an audience that’s not me.
1: As for dad: he cannot be defended. He left because Morgan was imperfect. Remarried, he has the kids he wanted and feels no real desire to reconnect with Morgan.
2: Morgan’s mother may have good reason to think Morgan won’t actually get around to pursuing her academic and professional dreams without some nudging.