||Dark Swan Press
||December 11, 2009
Sophie Hegel is a shy New York lawyer from small-town Florence Arizona, known not for the Renaissance but for housing a large prison. She’s just graduated from Yale Law School and landed her first job when, one evening she feels a fist-like ball form at the base of her throat. Diagnosed with the psychological condition Globus Sensate, this “fist-ball” wreaks havoc on her life, causing difficulty eating, speaking, and eventually breathing. With a cast of characters that includes a pornographer father, a sister with a knack for getting knocked up by denizens of the town pen, a tough-talking fashion maven, a painter of male nudes, an eccentric Sing Sing-residing client and a bevy of privileged Manhattan attorneys and judges, Swallow is a dark comedy about the distance that can separate fathers and daughters, and about a young woman’s struggle to survive in a world of pedigreed professionals for which she has no preparation.
It was like something out of a Freudian case study -- the result of a repressed memory of choking on Herr so and so’s semen at six months of age or something insane. But as a lawyer, I’d always operated in the realm of logic; never cared much for the repressed memory thing, or for the idea that everything is sexual. Which is why I was so nervous about seeing a shrink. They weren’t all Freudians, I tried to reassure myself – only the psychoanalysts, right? It didn’t matter anyway; I was rather desperate at that point. Just focus on the “positive,” I told myself: with a food neurosis and a psychologist, in your measly nine months here, you’re on your way to becoming the consummate New York woman, Sophie Hegel.
It was early 2001. The World Trade towers were still standing, the economy was crazy strong -- I’d never seen so much exorbitant spending in my life as I had in my first few months in New York -- and I was still in a rather continuous state of nervous excitement about: 1) having managed to graduate from Yale Law the prior May; 2) having managed to win from said school a public interest fellowship with the NYC Public Defender’s Office as an appeals attorney representing indigent defendants; 3) taking and actually passing the New York State Bar Exam; and 4) moving to the city and into the unsettlingly posh Upper-East-Side apartment of my boyfriend, Stephen, whom I’d met in law school.
Anyway, two weeks after it emerged -- “it” being the ball, as I’d call it, or the fist-ball, FB for short -- I stole into the office library and surreptitiously filched the medical insurance directory, chose a random name under “mental,” and ended up with Dr. Ames.
Dr. Ames seemed decent. He didn’t mention semen or repressed memories, although he did elicit a clarification when I’d told him I was having problems swallowing: “Food, you mean?”
Vanity Fair online
Swallow … hooks you from the opening pages with its breathless urgency and captures what it’s like to live in NY now, with money worries and ambition and myriad obligations breathing down your neck, and none of it written in cutesy chick-lit’ry. So give it a try.
Many of us know what it's like to have a mouthful of angry words you'd like to let fly, but few of us bite back those words quite as harshly as Sophie Hegel, poor Arizonan turned (almost) sophisticated New York City lawyer.
Sophie's words lodge so firmly in her throat that she has trouble swallowing and loses weight at a rapid rate, causing many of her friends to urge her to get help for anorexia. Eventually the dam excludes spoken words, and, horrifyingly, air to breathe; every social and professional encounter becomes a struggle for poise in the face of discomfort.
Perhaps her problem lies with her relationship with her father. A producer of pornographic movies, John left his wife and daughters in their dusty Arizona town to live in L.A. and date the actresses who star in his x-rated films. Or maybe Sophie's issues are to do with her fiance, who works in a high-powered law office and makes quietly disparaging remarks about Sophie's meager paycheck.
Sophie does sense that her problems are with the men in her life, since she refers to the blockage in her throat as a "he." In fact, she gives it a name: FB, short for Fist Ball. It ultimately takes a tragedy for Sophie to release some of her pent-up words of anger, to stand up for herself, to free herself from the opinions of others.
Tonya Plank, author of the popular blog Swan Lake Samba Girl, is an exuberant writer who injects so much gusto into her characters that occasionally they teeter on the edge of caricature without quite tipping over. For example, Sophie overreacts to a shopping question at her own engagement party: "'I mean, Heaven forbid I don't know who designed my shoes!' I screamed. But when I saw her receding smile, her chin pointed down, shoulders hunched over, hair shielding nipples, I felt horrible." Plank keeps them from crossing that line of ridiculous, and as a result Sophie and her friends are believable, complex, and highly entertaining.
Swallow is peppered with discussions on advanced theories of aesthetics that, surprisingly, never detract from the up-tempo story. Plank has a knack for combining philosophical opinions, hard-luck family stories, discount shopping triumphs, and gently slapstick humor into a book that makes readers laugh, think, and swallow hard in sympathy.
The Review Broads
The novel "Swallow" enters into us deeply as women, as we all swallow our words of confrontation and anger - and find ourselves outside the labyrinth of self. "Swallow" presents on several levels, and anticipates it own multi-dimensions; metaphor, psychology, reality and inner fear. As Tonya Plank works her setting, the grit and grime as well as the glitter of NYC emanates from every pore and page of the book.
Idealistic attorney Sophie Hegel has recently graduated from Yale Law School. Everything in her life glows: her boyfriend Stephen (Harvard, Princeton, Yale Law), is older, worldly, has a high power job at a prestigious law firm - and has chosen small town girl Sophie to be his wife. Stephen has well placed and high powered friends. Sophie has landed the job of her dreams as an intern fellowship with the NYC Public Defenders' Office as an appellate attorney. Sophie's friends Sami, Francie and artist Thom adore her. But something is very wrong. As Sophie treads water, floating tenuously above at her newly appointed post, she begins to sink into the whirlpool of NYC's snobby and money-driven veneer. An old childhood illness reappears. Sophie literally cannot swallow and chokes as she tries to speak or eat.. Diagnosed with Globus Sensate, the condition, while psychologically based, is very real. Sophie falters, as her oral arguments end in fainting spells and botched assignments. Her weight dips precariously, as she bobs into the deep end of the psychological pool. As the Fist Ball in her throat presses into her, she seeks out a psychologist, Dr. Ames, who simply listens. As Sophie's career, body size and personal life diminishes, she demands an answer from Dr. Ames.
The story emerges. Caught within the web of a family that Sophie cannot relate to, she begins to address the problems with her father, who produces porn films, her trailer trash sister, Bebe, and her martyred mother. As Sophie begins to speak up and tell the truth - to her friends, to Stephen, to her family and co-workers, the Fist Ball begins to contract.
Tonya Plank has written a novel about a woman coming of age at thirty; about moral and psychological integrity, with strong sentiments on male/female relationships between father and daughters and the
undercurrents that appear in love and social relationships within those dynamics. This is not just regional, women's fiction - it transcends any genre. As the layers unravel like an onion, I fell into Sophie's world most intently. Ms. Plank's first novel is a brilliant show of even greater things to come. She is an author to watch and follow. I know her next novel will be even more brilliant than this one, if that is possible.
Ratings are based on a 5-star scale:
Overall: 4.95 (just to encourage Ms. Plank to write her second novel - SOON)
Great novel, frothy and bubbly like good champagne with a touch of angel martinis!
Review by Broad "A" - Ava
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