Mama & the Hungry Hole
By Johanna DeBiase
Wordcraft of Oregon, 2015
Julia and her Mama, Elise, live in rural New Mexico. They are isolated, except for visits with their neighbor, Juanita, who brings food and provides company. But after Elise breaks off contact with Juanita, two surprise visitors appear: Elise’s mother and a circus that sets up camp in a neighboring lot. With Nana’s arrival, we learn Elise’s back story, discovering why she brought Julia to this remote area and learning of a childhood trauma she has never gotten over. Elise is a storyteller and there are smaller stories told within the larger narrative, creating a fabulist quality to the book. In fact the whole story has a magical realism quality to it, which I much enjoyed, including one chapter being narrated by a tree.
Elise, Nana and Juanita are all strong women who I felt very connected to. Elise has issues with her mother that she still needs to work out and Nana’s appearance brings just enough conflict to the story to make it take off. And the circus family is a whimsical addition to this already magical world. In the background, the area where Julia and her mother live is being developed at the expense of the earth, adding an environmental theme. I found the end to be moving and dramatic pulling together the many threads explored.