Tiffanie DeBartolo's God-Shaped Hole is an interesting, well-paced first novel with great characters and lots of emotion. Using a contemporary, slightly (sometimes very) jaded voice in the form of her main character, Beatrice (or "Trixie") Jordan, the book explores themes of longing, loss, childhood pain and the effects it has on us all as adults, finding one's place in the world, and finally true love, and how it fits into one's life if it only lasts for a time, and not forever, as each and every one of us hopes.
As for the narrator's voice (and that of the main character), those who appreciate Daria's caustic wit on the MTV sitcom of the same name will feel right at home here.
Trixie finds her love through a personal ad in the Weekly, where her future flame works. The ad reads, in its entirety, 'If your intentions are pure/I'm seeking a friend/For the end of the world.' One look at the ad, & Trixie has a feeling she has just found her soul mate. And right she is.
Jacob Grace (who anyone who knows anything about the book will know was based on musician Jeff Buckley -- allusions to him and his life run throughout the book, his lyrics are echoed in DeBartolo's prose, and Buckley's 1994 album was called Grace) even looks a bit like Buckley, beautiful, sensitive, with thoughtful, kind eyes, and a deep, yearning soul. He is just what Trixie has been looking for, the antithesis of LA, a vessel of hope for her future, for something *real.*
Jacob and Trixie find love together in the ruins of LA, and both are counting the days until they can leave together, she a talented, up-and-coming jewelry designer, he a fiction writer biding time at the local paper til he finishes his latest creation, the aptly titled, "Hallelujah." (Hallelujah is also a song written by Leonard Cohen which was covered on Buckley's hit 1994 album, Grace.)
DeBartolo gets points from me for one for her musical references, (the first thing the two buy each other on their first 'date' are Nick Drake's Five Leaves Left and a Miles Davis jazz record, swapping new music definitely a good way to get into each other's hearts, and into mine as a reader, and such good taste!)
And for her portrayals of the hapless souls of Beatrice and Jacob, dancing about the fire of love like moths to a flame.. they need it, they want it, they've been waiting all their lives for it, for each other, and to escape the soulless town they find themselves living in. But will it be too much? Will it overcome them in its intensity? They are yin and yang to each other, and striking a balance and finding a healthy middle ground between them, a healthy relationship, will be difficult.
They spend their time loving one another, rapt in the happy glow of having found such a similar soul in the world, and in planning their getaway, to Memphis, Tennessee, where they both dream of a simple life-- an old, Victorian rambling house, complete with porch, and having children of their own to tend to, one boy, one girl, and a swingset in the yard. That's their dream, simple enough, but realizing it will prove more complicated than either of them imagine.
Some potential problems are the appearance of Jacob's ex, a former drug user, and both of their father issues. Beatrice's dad abandoned her family early on with a string of affairs, and left her and her mother forever wounded. And Jacob's father, the famous writer Thomas Doorley, similarly abandoned Jacob and his mother when he was young, a fact which he too has yet to come to terms with, and one which has a significant impact on his daily life, even as an adult. (The character of Thomas Doorley also has some similarities to Jeff Buckley's life.. for instance, Jeff's father was the famous '60's folk musician Tim Buckley, and he had a song called 'Morning Glory,' (the name of Thomas Doorley's book in the novel.))
How they cope with their past ghosts, and very real (and to a certain extent, quite understandable) fear of abandonment and of everything falling apart, their fear and mistrust of simple contentment and happiness, is what drives the story.
I recommend this book to fans of Buckley, and to lovers of young-hearted, hiply-written, art, music, and soul-tinged fiction. Even the title refers to a U2 song lyric, and I recently heard a song which was itself called God-Shaped Hole (it appears on the Bruce Almighty film soundtrack). So the book itself may be spawning its own musical references, bringing things somewhat full circle in the art imitating life imitating art category. Let's hope DeBartolo (a former screenwriter) has another book in the works, as her fresh voice and moving fiction writing have made God-Shaped Hole an overall successful debut. Recommended.