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.
Tonya gives an overview of the book:
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?" He was fortyish, a bit pudgy, with a round cherubic face that emanated contentment like a white beluga whale. And he had an eye like Sartre's -- I always forget the exact term -- lazy eye, deviating eye? I resigned to call it his "Sartre eye." At first it threw me a bit because it didn't seem like he was looking directly at me when he talked. Then, for that very reason, it began to make me feel more at ease. Like he wasn't staring me down or sizing me up.
Tonya Plank worked as a criminal appeals attorney in New York City for many years. A former competitive ballroom dancer and a longtime balletomane, she writes the popular dance blog, "Swan Lake Samba Girl," which has been lauded by James Wolcott of Vanity Fair and...