Hole In The Earth

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At the heart of this compelling novel about why men act the way they do is the profound and affecting story of a family, of what tears them apart and what can bring them back together.

Henry Porter's summer begins when his daughter Nicole-whom he hasn't seen since his wife divorced him five years ago-shows up on his doorstep. Nicole is a surprise; just graduated from high school-almost an adult-the gap between the little girl Henry once knew and the woman she has become leaves ...

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At the heart of this compelling novel about why men act the way they do is the profound and affecting story of a family, of what tears them apart and what can bring them back together.

Henry Porter's summer begins when his daughter Nicole-whom he hasn't seen since his wife divorced him five years ago-shows up on his doorstep. Nicole is a surprise; just graduated from high school-almost an adult-the gap between the little girl Henry once knew and the woman she has become leaves him fumbling for words. Days after Nicole arrives, Henry's girlfriend, Elizabeth, reveals that she is pregnant. Henry is speechless at these two events, throwing into sharp relief his emotional landscape. He best deals with situations like these by heading off to the racetrack in time to make the daily double, and to place a few bets.

As Rick Bass writes, "a beautiful and aching novel, alarming in its wisdom and treatment of one of the great terrors, loneliness, and one of the great mercies, forgiveness."

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Editorial Reviews

Robert Clark
Robert Bausch has written a courageous and beautiful book - moving, tragic, wise, but also starkly and necessarily comic.
Washington Post Book World
Denver Post
A beautifully written-sometimes witty, sometimes thoughtful, always provocative-take on life as we live it now.
New York Times Book Review
A splendid novel, original in the best sense . . . Written with compassion and insight, A Hole in the Earth definitely hits the daily double.
Washington Post Book World
A courageous and beautiful book . . . Moves the literary exploration of manhood . . . onto the shaky and terrifying ground where men's lives are lived.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
If one of the purposes of literature is to illuminate human inconsistencies and frailties, failed attempts to communicate, and redemptive possibilities, this richly rewarding new novel by the author of Almighty Me wins stars in each category. On the verge of turning 40, narrator Henry Porter endures a summer in purgatory. The black sheep of his respected family, he is a grade school history teacher who augments his income by frequenting the race track, an obsession that exasperated his wife, who left him years ago, taking their young daughter, Nicole. Now 18, Nicole turns up on his doorstep in Washington, D.C., throwing Henry into a paroxysm of nervous guilt. Trying to reconcile his feelings of parental failure with his compulsion to bet on the horses, he can barely greet Nicole before he rushes off to make a daily double wager. Then, when his patient and understanding lover, fellow teacher Elizabeth Simmons, tells him she's pregnant, Henry can't cope. He is, indeed, emotionally stunted, trapped in an adolescent limbo caused, he believes, by the abiding disapproval of his father, a well-known judge. Afraid to make a decision, preferring to gamble and let fate decide rather than act decisively, Henry is blind to the implications of his behavior. He resists any suggestion that his gambling addiction might be pernicious. In a plot that develops its rising tension with seamless ease, Henry's lies and evasions catch up with him in a wrenching series of disasters, a nightmare than keeps unrolling until he reaches the nadir of his existence. With a delicacy and subtlety that indicate a mastery of his craft, Bausch captures and sustains the reader's sympathy for self-destructive Henry. At last, in a moving denouement, Henry achieves a transcendent moment of self-worth and connection. Bausch's profound empathy for his characters, his wise understanding that the texture of life is composed of ambiguities, failures, guilt feelings--and a few successes--contributes to a flawlessly expressed novel. Author tour. (Aug.) FYI: Robert Bausch is the twin brother of novelist Richard Bausch. Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.|
Library Journal
Set in the Washington, DC, area in the late 1980s, this is the story of a harrowing summer in the life of Henry Porter, a 39-year-old high school history teacher. It begins when Nicole, the estranged daughter he hasn't seen in five years, arrives unexpectedly from California with friend Sam in tow and announces that she plans to stay for the summer. Then, Elizabeth, his longtime girlfriend, tells him that she is pregnant. Facing painfully unresolved issues in his relationship with Nicole, the ambiguities of his relationship with Elizabeth, and the image of his father's perpetual disapproval looming ever larger in his consciousness, Henry quickly spirals toward emotional collapse. Tender and caustic by turns, world-weary, and, ultimately, wise, this is a novel about family ties that both bind and repel and about what it means to, at long last, grow up. Recommended for most public libraries.--Lawrence Rungren, Merrimack Valley Lib. Consortium, Andover, MA Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.\
Will Blythe
[A] splendid novel, original in the best sense -- establishing characters so fresh yet familiar that they might be helping themselves to what's in your refrigerator even as you read about them.
The New York Times Book Review
Bret Anthony Johnston
Henry Porter, the overwhelmed narrator of Bausch's splendid new novel, is handicapping the daily double when the teen-age daughter he has not seen in five years knocks on his door. Nicole's arrival, coupled with Porter's girlfriend's announcement that she is pregnant, proves too much for this high-school history teacher on the verge of turning forty, and he buckles. Skillfully, Bausch sidesteps the pitfalls that often encumber the typical midlife crisis dirge. This moving story does not gloss over the hard, crucial moments of tragedy but builds with rare poise and energy toward a dramatic, compelling climax. Whether confronting Porter's parental failures, the harsh and continued disapproval from his father or his almost paralyzing fears of age and commitment, Bausch has created a novel that is authentic in its gesture and emotion, aching in its beauty and flawless in its telling.
Kirkus Reviews
Mid-life crisis hardly describes the maelstrom that engulfs history teacher Henry Porter in his 39th summer, traced by Bausch (Almighty Me, 1991, etc.) in his finest and most complete novel yet.. Henry's summer should be as aimless as ever—days at the horse track (a passion that putatively cost him wife and daughter), evenings with girlfriend Elizabeth, the occasional existential curveball that his own cigar-chomping personal Fates might hurl his way. But his Fates—one of Henry's strategies to deny that life might have meaning, and that he might have responsibility for it—have more spitballs, sliders, and change-ups than Henry can imagine. Just as the season begins, daughter Nicole shows up unannounced. Five years ago, when he last saw her, she was an obese adolescent; now she's a svelte, vegetarian, high-school graduate. Clumsily, Henry welcomes her—then deserts her for the racetrack. Gambling success equals failure at paternal love, as he cashes in on the daily double. Although he feels guilty about the botched reunion and Nicole's reaction to it, what he should've done always comes to him too late, his mulish feelings lagging significantly behind his actions. A few nights later, the Fates throw a change-up: his girlfriend Elizabeth is two months pregnant. A teacher also, and as ambivalent to commitment as Henry is, Elizabeth knows only that she wants the baby. Little disasters whirl into larger chaos when, after agreeing to marriage, Elizabeth rejects Henry utterly. Henry becomes a "stalker"; an offhanded lie told to protect Nicole gets her assaulted instead by a cute but psychotic white supremacist; and in almost wooing Elizabeth back, he nearlykillsher. In the end, Henry must confront the roots of the pain he causes those he loves—and maybe even figure out the meaning of his life. A few narrative excesses aside: trenchant, funny, occasionally profound, and always surprising. Author tour
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780156011846
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
  • Publication date: 8/17/2001
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 372
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.50 (h) x 0.83 (d)

Meet the Author

ROBERT BAUSCH is the author of five novels and a collection of short stories. His novel A Hole in the Earth was a New York Times Notable Book of the Year as well as a Washington Post Book World Favorite Book of the Year. He lives in Stafford, Virginia, and teaches literature and creative writing at Northern Virginia Community College.

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Reading Group Guide

1. A lot of readers feel they must "identify" with or "like" the main characters of a story, in order to enjoy a novel. Ironically, most writers strive very hard to create characters with significant, therefore interesting, flaws. The object is, of course, to create fully human characters. Henry Porter is fairly exasperating-he takes a long time to figure out the source of his troubles. Nonetheless, he is always trying to do the right thing; in other words, he is not bad, he is simply imperfect. What qualities can you point to in his character? What faults do you think the writer instilled in him to make his story worth pursuing? Discuss the source of his troubles; both what Henry thinks it is, and what you think it is.

2. Henry is a father, and he has his own father to deal with. What similarities and differences do you notice between Henry and his own father? Examine the way Henry treats Nicole, and then look at the way his father treats him. Are they different? Similar? Compare and contrast both fathers' attitude and behavior toward their children throughout the book. Are there ways in which the story of the father and daughter inform or otherwise enhance (or detract from) the story of the father and son?

3. The book is called A Hole in the Earth, and it opens in the "biggest hole human beings ever dig." Several passages and images in the book bring to mind both literal and figurative "holes" in the earth; examine the various kinds of "holes" in the earth the book deals with and explore the ways these images and references enhance (or detract from) the story.

4. Much is made in the study of literature of what is called the "reliable" narrator. Gulliver, inJonathan Swift's great novel Gulliver's Travels, is one example of an unreliable narrator. He is not, in other words, a truth-teller and his perceptions cannot, therefore, be trusted. Ishmael who tells the story of Captain Ahab in Moby Dick, Herman Melville's masterpiece is a reliable narrator and his perceptions and descriptions can be trusted. What sort of narrator is Henry Porter? Examine what he says, what his perceptions are. Is he reliable in his understanding of what is good, what is evil, what is right, and what is wrong? Is he right about Elizabeth? His father? Can he be trusted to tell the truth as he sees it? And even if he thinks he has the truth, and says what he thinks it is, does he have the truth?

5. The women in Henry's life include his mother, his first wife Catherine, his daughter Nicole, and his current "girl friend" Elizabeth. Examine his relationships to each of these women. What does he understand about them? What does he not understand about them?

6. Henry says his father's generation "painted pin-up girls on bombers," and that his father grew up when being "a man" was "an achievement." What does he mean by this? How has his generation changed? What does Henry think caused the change? Why does he think his generation is so ready to surrender? What does "being a man" mean to Henry's generation? What does it mean to the women in the novel?

7. Henry says gambling is really "making the right decisions" with the hope of a "little luck." Examine the "decisions" Henry makes in the novel; both the gambling ones-i.e., the ones he makes at the track-and the ones that might be "gambles" in his life. What decisions is he capable of in his life that might be considered gambles? What decisions is he incapable of making? Contrast the kind of "gambles" inherent in his life decisions, both the ones he makes without too much trouble, and the ones he can't make.

8. In books that are called "literary," or "serious" fiction, you will rarely find an evil, dark character with a pencil-thin mustache, wearing black clothing, and bent on "doing bad," for "bad's" sake. Fiction that is serious-as in "not frivolous"-usually deals with recognizable human characters in human situations, dealing with what has been called the human dilemma: how to live a good life in the face of all that is naturally opposed to it. In serious fiction, the writer usually provides human characters, all of whom intend good, all of whom mean well, and suffering happens anyway. So, what "evil" does Henry do? His father? Is there a "bad guy" in this novel, and who would you say it is?

9. Compare and contrast Henry's attitudes and thoughts at the end of the novel, with his beliefs and thoughts in the beginning? Has there been a change? If so, does that mean he is on the way to a kind of redemption? The first chapter heading at the beginning of the novel is At the End, and the last chapter heading is At the Beginning. What does that suggest? Why?

10. In the end of the novel, Henry imagines himself going over to Elizabeth's house, in early spring. He envisions seeing her emerge from the house and the two of them sitting down, as they did when they first met, and talking about things, becoming friends again. He says, "I wouldn't bet on it, but it could happen." What does this reveal about him? Would you bet on it? Why?

Copyright (c) 2000. Published by Harcourt, Inc.
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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 4 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted July 11, 2005

    Deep and Emotional

    When you read A Hole in the Earth, you feel such a wide range of emotions. I laughed loudly and weeped openly. This book was so touching. Not a single page is missing anything. The dialogue seems as though it's not fictional. It's an amazing novel.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 12, 2005

    Great Book

    The writing in this book is so vivid and imaginative. I really enjoyed it. Robert Bausch was my American Lit professor, and he teaches as well as he writes. Big thumbs up!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 26, 2005

    Very moving

    I don't shed tears often, but this book moved me so much that I had to make sure my fellow commuters on the train didn't look at me funny, sniffling quietly during the morning rush hour.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 1, 2000

    A Great Book

    I've never read a book that so moved me, or got me more interested. I couldn't put it down. I was reading it on the commuter train, and missed my stop. I didn't look up from the book until I got to the end of the line. The characters are so real, and you come to care for them, almost as if they were members of your own family. If you've ever been a son, or a daughter, or a father, or a husband or wife, this book speaks to so many levels of family and the matters of the heart. I may read it again before I read anything else, just to recreate the feeling of sadness, joy, and sorrow and elation it evokes. It's the best book I've ever read about families, and family responsibilities. You must read this book.

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