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Appalachian Book of the Year (Fiction), 2014
Longlisted for the International Dublin Literary Award
"We walk on fire or air, so Daddy liked to say. Basement floors too hot to touch. Steaming green lawns in the dead of winter. Sinkholes, quick and sudden, plunging open at your feet."
The underground mine fires ravaging Pennsylvania coal country have forced 11-year-old Brigid Howley and her family to seek refuge with her estranged grandparents, the formidable Gram and the black lung-stricken Gramp. Tragedy is no stranger to the Howleys, a proud Irish-American clan who takes strange pleasure in the "curse" laid upon them generations earlier by a priest who ran afoul of the Molly Maguires. The weight of this legacy rests heavily on a new generation, when Brigid, already struggling to keep her family together, makes a grisly discovery in a long-abandoned bootleg mine shaft. In the aftermath, decades-old secrets threaten to prove just as dangerous to the Howleys as the burning, hollow ground beneath their feet.
Inspired by real-life events in Centralia and Carbondale, where devastating coal mine fires irrevocably changed the lives of residents, The Hollow Ground is an extraordinary debut with an atmospheric, voice-driven narrative and an indelible sense of place. Lovers of literary fiction will find in Harnett's young, determined protagonist a character as heartbreakingly captivating as Scout Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird.
Customer ReviewsMost Helpful
By NHull on 05-30-14
Disfunction makes a good read
Book review: The Hollow Ground by Natalie S. Harnett
Caveat: I'm not a reviewer, I have no experience at this. I actually won this book in a giveaway and was stunned by what I ended up listening to. (I won an audiobook version.)
To start, this isn't a book I believed I'd have interest in. A slice of life story of a young girl growing up in central Pennsylvania during the coal fires mid-20th Century. The subject and style of story are completely different than my normal reading material, which largely consist of Sci-Fi, history and military literature.
That said, this book sucks you in with the honest, bare, and real feeling of being there. The main character is honest and written as a real child in hard times, not a genius, not precocious, just a living feeling person suffering with the difficulties of living a destitute existence while enduring a broken family and the constant prospect of the mine fires taking her loved ones or home at any moment.
The story winds through the growth of this girl, from young child to young adult. It covers a variety of realities with ease, from the mine fires, to family dynamics, to homelessness, racism, alcoholism, abuse and abandonment.
The characters are written as real people, a hard thing to do with any work of fiction, but in this, they are exactly the type of people I spent my youth surrounded by. Entitled poor white trash that believes everyone owes them something, with the bullheaded pride of those not smart enough to know their own limitations and instead believe that their failures are the fault of an outside source, be that God, other people, the government or a family curse. The mother, especially embodies this, I literally wanted to smack the woman at times, seeing in her all of the worst flaws I recognize from many of my peers and their parents when I was a youth.
I can't recommend this book enough to anyone wanting a slow-paced, generally uplifting read with real insight into the human condition.
51 of 51 people found this review helpful
By kimbacaffeinate on 06-20-14
The Hollow Ground was a poignant tale of heartach
Any additional comments?
Five reasons to grab your ear-buds and take a walk with The Hollow Ground:
1. Harnett realistically captures this small mining town and the horrific horrors they deal with from nightly checked for gas levels to a down turned economy devastated by the fires and the fleeing of townsfolk. She takes us into the dysfunctional home of eleven-year-old Brigid Howley an Irish-American family with secrets and hardship. The story is atmospheric, character driven and beautifully captures this period.
2. The story unfolds through Brigid Howley’s perspective as she narrators events, shares her family curse and reasons out the behavior of her family. She is a curious mixture of childlike innocents and wisdom beyond her years. Her voice is incredibly realistic and heartfelt. Readers will fall in love with Brigid, and her voice will engrain itself forever in your mind. Reviewers have likened her to Scout Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird, and I whole-heartily agree.
3. Harnett captures the raw emotions of this family exposing their secrets and daily struggles. She adds moments of light into this bleak world. Family can tear each other down and lift each other up like nobody’s business, and we gain an insider’s perspective that is real and raw through the eyes of this child. The tale was captivating and realistically portrayed.
4. The secondary characters had depth as Harnett held nothing back. Brigid’s parents were complicated, frustrating, and damaged. Harnett gave them powerful voices even when they said nothing. As the reader they stunned me, made me angry and yet Harnett allowed me to feel sympathy and gain understanding. Gram was an ornery hoot, who holds grudges, will not listen to reason and loves with a ferocious intensity. I both scorned and adored her.
5. The Hollow Ground is an atmospheric tale that will stay with you as will Brigid’s voice. Add this to your reading list if you enjoy tales inspired by actual events, learning about American history and delving into the dynamics of the dysfunctional families. Luci Christian the narrator did an excellent job of bringing Brigid and her family to life. Each character was easily recognizable and their emotions evident in her voice.
19 of 19 people found this review helpful