by Natalie S. Harnett
Narrator: Luci Christian
Length: 10 hrs and 32 mins
Genres: Literary Fiction
Purchase*: Amazon | Audible *affiliate
Narration: 4 cups
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
I grew up in South Jersey and as a young teen traveled with my maternal grandparents to central Pennsylvania for the day. There we toured an abandoned coalmine. We rode inside the tunnels on old coal cars draped in thick miner coats and helmets. We learned about working in the mines from the working conditions to the ailments workers suffered. We then visited abandon towns with boarded up windows and overgrown lawns.; viewed fields where smoke and sulfur gases rose from the ground licked by flames. It was dark, sad and oddly eerie. On the car ride home, I imagined what people in those towns must have experienced. Where did they go? Why did some choose to stay? It was one of those memories that stayed with me. When I was approached to review the audio version of The Hollow Ground by Natalie S. Harnett and realized, the story was about a family in this ravaged area I immediately accepted. The Hollow Ground was a poignant tale of heartache, growth and the ties that bind us.
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 the nightly checks for gas levels to the down turned economy. These towns were devastated by the fires and the fallout from fleeing townsfolk. She takes us into the dysfunctional home of eleven-year-old Brigid Howley. We gain insight into this 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 allowing the reader to smile. 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. 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.
The Hollow Ground evoked childhood memories and shared life inside one of those homes I saw years ago. To learn more about the fires that are still burning today you can read; “After 50 years, fire still burns underneath Pa. town” from USA Today or watch a video on YouTube about “Centralia The Ghost Town.”
“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.”