Kelsey Ronan's 2023 Michigan Notable Book, Chevy in the Hole, is a stunning, painfully honest love letter to Flint, MI. The popular story of Flint is one of loss—overwhelming population loss, deindustrialization, and disinvestment, but who are the people who stay and what are their experiences? Ronan’s book explores these questions and more.
The novel centers around two families in Flint. While most of the book takes place from 2014-2016, just as the Flint water crisis was coming to light, portions of the book take place during the General Motors Sit-Down Strike of 1936-1937, the first major labor dispute in the U.S. auto industry.
The title, Chevy in the Hole, while irrefutably metaphorical, refers to a literal depression in the Flint River Valley that was once the sight of a massive Chevrolet factory complex. Shortly after August (Gus), one of the book’s main characters, moves back to Flint, we see him wandering around Chevy in the Hole.
“He walked the mile down to Chevy in the Hole, a concrete bowl carved in the middle of the city with the Flint River running through it. It had once held acres of Chevrolet assembly line. Birds tumble from the powerlines. The skinny trees the man in the Johnny Cash shirt mentioned, struggled up from new dirt. The railroad tracks that once huffed in car parts had been turned into a bike path. When August was little and his father was pink slipped, the hill had seemed much steeper. August remembered it lined with broken glass and twisted rebar. Now a wire fenced hemmed in acres of nothing.”
This scene takes place in 2014 as Chevy in the Hole was undergoing the first stage of phytoremediation. Hundreds of trees were planted to pull up generations of toxins from the ground. Today, Chevy in the Hole is known as Chevy Commons, and is a 60-acre public park with plenty of green space, meandering bike trails, and flowers—a retreat in the center of Flint that is slated to become Michigan’s 104th state park.
The novel is not only a love letter to Flint, but a love story between Gus and Monet as well. Gus is recovering from an opioid addiction and seems to be perpetually searching for himself and what he wants. Monet, on the other hand, is a hard-working, resolute, and fiercely strong activist. She seems to have all the answers and she knows what she wants; she is deeply committed to Flint and to various issues around food security, nutrition, and city politics. The pair, despite their glaring differences, are unquestionably drawn to each other. For Gus, Monet becomes a sort of “home” that he’s been searching for.
Kelsey Ronan writes with a deep knowledge of the history of Flint, the experience of someone who grew up there. Her work has appeared in Lit Hub, Michigan Quarterly Review, The Kenyon Review, and elsewhere. She lives in Detroit and teaches for InsideOut Literary Arts.
Pick up a copy of Chevy in the Hole and join us for a Michigan Notable Book conversation with Kelsey Ronan at the Wickson Library on Tuesday, June 27 from 6-7pm. Kelsey will be available to discuss her book and sign copies. Refreshments will be served. We hope to see you there.