‘The Hollow Middle’ Captures An Educator in the Midst of an Existential Crisis [REVIEW]

Man looking to sea

An educator ponders his existence in John Popielaski’s debut novel, The Hollow Middle. (Photo by doublecompile, Flickr)

An educator in the midst of a midlife crisis suddenly receives an unexpected windfall of cash and the opportunity to make some major changes in his life. But as he ponders his existence to date, will he find his way toward self actualization or will he get mired down in the ambiguity of what could have been? Find out in John Popielaski’s The Hollow Middle

John Popielaski's THE HOLLOW MIDDLE

Unsolicted Press

Albert Lesiak isn’t one to make big decisions. Rather, he kind of goes with the flow, which is how he wound up teaching English at a Catholic school. In fact, “I like to read,” was his deciding factor for choosing a career path. It’s not that he despises what he does, he just seems rather ambivalent about the whole thing.

But then, even his marriage appears to be a matter of compromise. Mary isn’t identified as the love of his life, but as “a woman he could live with.” Yes, the bar hasn’t been set very high when it comes to making life choices.

Even so, when Albert receives a lump sum of cash from the government, he begins to contemplate using that money to move off grid to a piece of land he owns in Maine. Actually, this doesn’t come as too much of a surprise since Albert really doesn’t strike readers as a person who thrives off spending time with people.

What is surprising, however, is his wife Mary’s contribution toward this new chapter in their lives. She’s been scouring websites in recent months, looking at children, and now she has her heart set on twin boys who are both autistic. More than anything, she wants to take them in and make them a part of their lives. To sell Albert on the idea, she convinces him that they could use the state appropriated stipend they’d receive for taking the boys in to fund his new life in Maine. But, as he does with everything else, he must mull her proposal over. After all, he’s never been a father before, and he’s not exactly certain he’s patriarch material. And that is how The Hollow Middle unfolds, slowly like a huge flower, petal by petal… or in this case, topic by topic.

Popielaski’s debut novel is not fast-moving. Words like methodical, languid, and thoughtful are better adjectives, as the pacing is deliberate and meandering, and in many ways the trajectory of this book reminds me of a Faulkner novel which oftentimes has an arc so vast that it is difficult to see where it is going. And yet, that doesn’t seem to bother the author, because like the poet that he is, he appears to enjoy dissecting every item in Albert’s path, and thus the protagonist is lost in the labyrinthine circuits of his own mind. This isn’t to say that this makes for a bad work of fiction, especially since the novel is designed to work just this way. But it is one that must be read slowly, mulled over, and pondered at the only rate Albert may allow.

If you are looking for a fast-paced novel that hurtles forward at breakneck speed, keep searching. Try the latest bestseller by Baldacci or Preston and Child. But if you enjoy literary works reminiscent of tales by the likes of Upton Sinclair or Brock Clarke, The Hollow Middle is just what the doctor ordered.  Thought provoking, meditative and ambling, it is a novel that goes nowhere quickly, and yet revels in its intelligence with smug superiority as it examines one man’s existential crisis.

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John Popielaski

John Popielaski


John Popielaski is the author of several poetry collections, including Isn’t It Romantic?, which won the Robert Phillips Chapbook Award from Texas Review Press. His poems have also appeared in such journals as The Hollins CriticNew SouthPost Road, and Redivider. The Hollow Middle is his first novel.

Born in Port Jefferson Station, New York, one year after the beginning of the Summer of Love, Popielaski attended SUNY-Stony Brook and American University. He has worked as a mover, lackey to a well-heeled tropical biologist, tent erector, lobsterman, and teacher.

John currently teaches English at Xavier High School, an all-boys’ college preparatory school in Middletown, Connecticut. Visit his home on the Web at JohnPopielaski.com and follow him on Facebook.

By John Popielaski
381 pp. Unsolicited Press. $18.

TLC Book Tours Tour HostPurchase The Hollow Middle at one of these fine online retailers: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Books-A-Million, IndieBound, Powell’s and Unsolicited Press.

The Hollow Middle is brought to you in association with TLC Book Tours.

About Jathan Fink
Jathan is a journalist, philanthropist, and entrepreneur. He is also a travel junkie, foodie and jazz aficionado. A California native, he resides in Texas.

2 Responses to ‘The Hollow Middle’ Captures An Educator in the Midst of an Existential Crisis [REVIEW]

  1. Thanks for being a part of the tour!

  2. Pingback: John Popielaski, author of The Hollow Middle, on tour January 2019 | TLC Book Tours

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