“Boy in the Hole” by Akiva Hersh is a heart-filled story of surviving and overcoming, intergenerational trauma. It starts with the makings of a very traumatized grandmother and follows two generations of her family tree. It is a study in intergenerational trauma, in all its complexity. It’s heavy. But it’s important. It is filled with hope. And there’s a lot more to it.
The story is by no means a litany of abusive acts. It’s the story of Jacob growing up in a very dysfunctional family. He experiences some horrors, but also love and lust, friendship and loss, success and failure, spirituality and sexuality. In short, he grows up, from a very familiar child to a very recognizable young man.
Ours is a culture where we are uncomfortable talking about abuse in anything longer than a sound byte, yet one where abuse is incredibly common (the ACE study shows that ⅔ of Americans have ACE scores of one or more). This makes fiction and art some of the most important conveyors of truth about these topics. And “Boy in the Hole” has an important place in this.
Like most coming-of-age stories, this is an enjoyable read. It has a rather strong focus on the psychological, which adds to its unique feel as a novel. All of these ingredients come together to make a novel that is gritty but not depressing, familiar but not predictable, and a truly enjoyable, important read.
This is an impressive first novel from the author, who has this to say about writing it:
“People are wondering, “Why such an odd title?” I took the idea from Kurt Vonnegut’s Shapes of Stories. One of his story shapes is Man in Hole where he says: “The main character gets into trouble then gets out of it again and ends up better off for the experience.”
That contour fits with what Jacob, my main character, has to go through as a boy struggling with his sexuality amid his own physical and sexual abuse while witnessing his sister’s abuse and the deterioration of his family, amidst the cultural shifts of the seventies and eighties.
Jacob is loosely based on me. Very loosely. Yet we’re connected. On the other hand, there’s more fiction in this novel than the truth, but somehow the fiction is able to let the truth out in a more honest way.
I started writing BOY IN THE HOLE intending to publish it under a pseudonym. I had all kinds of excuses, but really I was hiding behind fear—Jacob’s story is everyone’s story—including mine, and I think that scared me. The challenges of his life are unique to him; his specific struggles may only be relatable to some, but that he faces challenges, that he struggles throughout his life makes his story universal. When I realized what this boy was going through and saw his strength (and how it matched my own) I knew I needed to stand by him and put my real name on this novel.
I also wrote BOY IN THE HOLE because the themes are personal to me; they are woven throughout my life. We see Jacob dealing with physical and sexual abuse. He gets bullied on the playground. He stops trusting the adults who mistreat him. He loses faith in societal institutions like a religion that is supposed to support him in times of doubt and need. We can all relate to that. And we need stories to show us what other people do when they face similar situations.
Like Jacob, the light hovering over the top of the hole that made me want to crawl out was an understanding and faith in psychology. For others, it may be family. For some, it could be the hope of leaving for college. There is always light. I hope is that BOY IN THE HOLE will remind people to look for that light rather than focus on the darkness.”
Any other questions for the author? If so, leave them in the comments below.