Swallow by Tonya Plank

By SMW Staff

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 Plank worked as a criminal appeals attorney in New York City. A former competitive ballroom dancer and a longtime balletomane, she writes the dance blog, Swan Lake Samba Girl. Swallow is her first novel.


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 — it’s 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.