FLINT, Michigan — Kelsey Ronan’s debut novel skillfully weaves 20th
and 21st-century timelines of two families living in Flint, Michigan. A growing romance between Monae Livingston, who is Black, and August ‘Gus’ Molloy, who is white, is artfully intertwined with themes of ancestral lineage, family loyalty, opioid abuse, social uplift, and redemption.
‘Chevy in the Hole’ — the nickname Flint locals gave Chevrolet’s first factory (1911), Fisher Body 2, in west Flint — is at the bottom of a hill on N. Chevrolet Avenue, topped by Kettering University on the northwest slope and Glenwood Avenue on the southwest. After a century of production, the plant was razed – ‘down the hole’ - leaving a 130-acre brownfield. Now called Chevy Commons, it is a protected, remediated green space of grasslands along the Flint River that became a state park in 2021.
With meticulously researched and vivid scenarios, Ronan writes history with skin on. Gus’s great-grandmother joins the Women’s Brigade of the 1936-37 Sit-Down Strike at Fisher Body 2 when the United Auto Workers gasped to life. Monae’s father and uncle experience the fallout in Flint from the Detroit Riot of 1967 and the Housing Ordinance sleep-in demonstration on the lawn of City Hall.
In 2014, Gus and Monae meet via the city’s burgeoning urban garden and natural food movement. Monae’s vision is to plant Flint’s network of 14,000 empty lots to help combat the city’s designation as a food desert. In April, however, the city’s drinking water is switched from Lake Huron to the Flint River, a decision fueled by money and men not from Flint, launching the water emergency.
'Chevy in the Hole' is now available on Amazon.
Signs boasting, ‘Demolition Means Progress,’ at Chevy in the Hole stand in stark irony that the concrete rubble represents this Rustbelt city’s social history and economy. It parallels the demolition of Gus’s life (and his deceased grandmother’s home) in the dissolution of his parent's marriage, his subsequent descent into opioid addiction, loss of jobs, and his family’s trust.
Social awkwardness often belies Gus’s rich interior world and the book’s carefully constructed timelines reveal that he inherited ancestral addiction. However, courage, resilience, and grit are also in his DNA – he is a generational citizen of Flint, after all - and like the heath of Chevy Commons, sow new life.
Transitions are subtle and superb: one family’s women in two timelines navigate dating and singlehood. A boy has a personal encounter with William C. Durant, the founder of General Motors, and his grandson decades later will use the Flint magnate’s face on a book to cover his own.
Two ephemeral family matriarchs are musically connected one fateful night in 1967 when one is given a box of records, featuring the vocal aspirations of the other, and impacts Gus and Monae’s future.
With lyrical quality, birds provide rich symbolism of timeless, existential questions about happiness and faith. After surviving the Beecher Tornado of June 1953, Goldie Byrdlong (Monae’s great-aunt) muses, ‘Didn’t you owe yourself your own happiness first? (p. 96)’ Monae’s mother says, ‘We all deserve a little joy...can't happiness be enough sometimes? (p. 167).
The poetry of Christian scripture, read by Johnny Cash, provides Gus with theological reflection; for him, Isaiah 58 shows proof that ‘God saw Flint coming’ (p. 232). Monae’s sublime taste in music transcends the harsh reality of living and loving in a city with waning options, and her magnetism restores Gus’s faith.
Chevy in the Hole
is a story of the redemption of two Flint families, culminating in a daughter who propels herself through water misunderstood, ‘sand-spangled and bright with sun,’ to come out safely on the other side.
'Chevy in the Hole' is available for purchase on Amazon. And find Kelsey Ronan on Instagram.