Hersh’s novel follows the beginning of Jacob Murtaugh’s life; from new born babe to young adult off to college. The events Jacob witnesses, perpetrates and survives are unsettling and it was often uncomfortable to read. Yet, there is an addictive quality to Hersh’s narrative. No matter how disconcerted I felt at times, I read on because I wanted to know there was hope for Jacob, that things would get better.
In the beginning, and this is where Hersh succeeded, hope was ever present but not always visible, much like the nature of hope in our everyday lives. We convince ourselves hope remains even in the dark because if there is not hope, what is there?
I do feel, however, several moments in Boy in the Hole were gratuitous. There is no doubt Jacob’s family is deeply troubled – criminally so in some cases – but towards the end the narrative became unchecked, it spiralled and began to blur lines and transgress. Consequently, by the end I simply wanted it to end. I grew to dislike Jacob, our protagonist, and the hope I longed for him to find midway through the novel, no longer mattered.
Ultimately, I think Hersh began by writing a story of survival but ended by squeezing too much in too short a time span; with the belief Jacob finally going off to college was enough to satisfy our innate desire for hope to exist. For me, it wasn’t, which was a shame as I was hooked for the majority of the novel.
This said, my opinion certainly stems from personal taste and I believe Jacob’s struggle and discovery of a way to ‘get better’ in Boy in the Hole is worth reading, because there is no doubt Hersh has taken on incredibly challenging subject matter and attempted to reconcile it in the eyes of a child maturing into a young man. Not an easy feat in any case.