About the book, The Hollow Middle
- Paperback: 380 pages
- Publisher: Unsolicited Press (December 4, 2018)
The Hollow Middle follows Albert Lesiak, an aging English teacher in Connecticut, who receives a windfall in delayed acknowledgment of the government’s complicity in his father’s cancer death and decides that it is time to live a different life on land he owns in Maine.
When his wife Mary suggests that they could foster or adopt autistic twin boys she fell in love with on a website and could use the stipend money in furtherance of Albert’s vision, Albert gradually perceives himself as possibly adapting to the role of patriarch.
A meditation on the curiosity of making sense and the dilemma of becoming true, The Hollow Middle ambles, mostly, and goes still for periods of various duration, acting like it’s not beholden after all to the rhetorical.
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About the author, John Popielaski
John Popielaski is the author of several poetry collections, including, most recently, Isn’t It Romantic? which won the Robert Phillips Chapbook Award from Texas Review Press. The Hollow Middle is his first novel.
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The Hollow Middle is not a fast read. In fact, it’s mindfully, even meditatively slow. It’s the kind of novel you read a few chapters of over a mug – or several – of tea, take time to digest them, and then go back for more. This is not a bad thing. In fact, the stillness of this book is an asset, because it means you really get to know the protagonist, Albert Lesiak.
In the initial chapters, Albert comes off as both prickly and kind of pompous. He’s detached from the world, an observer, rather than a real participant. You get the sense that things like sticky fingers would offend his sensibilities.
Despite this, he’s not a shallow character. He’s clearly leading an examined life and made decisions based on his perceived results.
And then everything changes.
But within that change, Albert remains surprisingly constant. His wife, Mary, serves as both chorus and director at different times, suggesting changes (adopting two boys being the biggest one) and then sitting back while Albert plays with all the angles and finds his own peace in the decision.
As I said, it’s a slow novel, almost more of a character study than anything else, and yet, it’s also compelling.
Author John Popielaski uses language with a combination of eloquence and economy of phrase that is refreshing to read. I found myself repeating sentences out loud because I was drawn to their rhythm. The characters feel like real – if slightly eccentric – people, and the situation is an interesting consideration of how we do or don’t change when we suddenly have the money to do whatever we want.
Goes well with: hot tea and shortbread cookies.
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