Summary and book reviews of The Hollow Ground by Natalie Harnett

The Hollow Ground

A Novel

By Natalie S. Harnett

The Hollow Ground
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

  • Hardcover: May 2014,
    336 pages.

    Publication Information

  • Rate this book


Buy This Book

About this Book

Book Summary

Set amongst the deadly coal mine fires of 1960s Pennsylvania, The Hollow Ground is an extraordinary debut that will "grab you by the brisket and not let go" (Gary Shteyngart)

"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 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 now-infamous Centralia and the equally devastated town of Carbondale, The Hollow Ground is an extraordinary debut with an atmospheric, voice-driven narrative and an indelible sense of place. Not since To Kill a Mockingbird has a young character been so heartbreakingly captivating. A "powerful story of love and survival" (Pulitzer Prize finalist David Gates), Harnett's novel is a must-read for lovers of literary fiction.

One

When Ma was seven years old her heart turned sour. She said it never turned sweet again, but I remember a time, long before the mine fires burned beneath our towns, when Ma's eyes glowed like sunlit honey, when her voice rose and fell as pleasantly as a trickling creek. While Brother was swelling up Ma's belly, or flailing around in the crib, or crawling on the brown linoleum of the trailer over by Mercher's Dump, we were happy. The thing that changed Ma wasn't there. But I remember the moment it arrived. Me and Ma were playing tiddlywinks at the kitchen table. Daddy was still in bed, watching us from his cot in the living room and telling a story about the tiddlywinks queen and princess. Back then I was so young and stupid I thought all daddies slept that way, separate from the rest of us, dozing till noon. Brother scribbled chalk on the kitchen floor, trying his best to make that cruddy linoleum look pretty.

Through the kitchen window came this light, the ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. Ma and Gram have many failings as mothers. In what ways are they the same? In what ways different?

  2. Daddy tells Brigid that Gram and Ma fight so much not because they hate each other, but because they love each other. He says that one of them has got to give the love first and they're each too stubborn to do it. "So they hold onto the love for each other and it turns all ugly inside them." How accurate is Daddy's assessment of Gram and Ma's relationship? Is there any truth to his words?

  3. Ma and Daddy are greatly influenced by their pasts. Memories and repressed memories—what they remember, what they don't remember, as well as what they misremember—shape who they are. Discuss how all these ...
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Reviews

Media Reviews
Booklist

Harnett’s deeply atmospheric historical novel of the harsh old mining life captures the despair of a family at the mercy of the earth’s elements and their own worst impulses.

Author Blurb Gary Shteyngart, New York Times bestselling author of Super Sad True Love Story
This cursed Irish-American clan will grab you by the brisket and not let go. Delicious reading!

Author Blurb Rebecca Newberger Goldstein, Whiting Writer's Award winner and author of 36 Arguments for the Existence of God
The Hollow Ground recalls nothing so much as the dark and powerful dramas of Eugene O'Neill. Cast in the surreal glow of mine fires burning out of control, its characters are both accursed and quirkily alive, with secrets from the past seeping into their lives like the gases that poison their homes. The voice of the innocent who tells the story is deeply affecting, making for a richly observed and moving novel.

Author Blurb David Gates, Pulitzer Prize finalist and author of The Wonders of the Invisible World
"Natalie S. Harnett's The Hollow Ground is a coming-of-age novel, a murder mystery, a family saga, and an American tragedy of an environmentally and economically devastated region. But most of all, it's a painful and powerful story of love and survival.

Author Blurb David Gates, Pulitzer Prize finalist and author of The Wonders of the Invisible World
Natalie S. Harnett’s The Hollow Ground is a coming-of-age novel, a murder mystery, a family saga, and an American tragedy of an environmentally and economically devastated region.  But most of all, it’s a painful and powerful story of love and survival.

Reader Reviews
Diane S

Hollow Ground
A very strong debut set in the 1960's in Pennsylvania coal country. Brigid Hawley is eleven yrs old, a girl that has had to grow up fast, due to the impoverished circumstances of her parents and their dysfunctional lives. When the underground fires ...   Read More

lois vonk

the hollow ground
Absolutely wonderful read. I read it in two days, I couldn't put it down!

Liz D. (Northbrook, IL)

Hollow Ground
Set against the Anthracite Coal Region of Pennsylvania, Hollow Ground explores relationships between and among multigenerational family members, as told through the lens of the daughter, Brigid. She has problems finding a sense of permanence and ...   Read More

Emily G. (Clear Lake, MN)

Compelling narrator
I was intrigued by the setting of this novel--a city on top of a coal mine fire--but from the first few lines of The Hollow Ground, I was captivated by the young narrator's voice. She's a clever girl who is learning about the troubles in her family ...   Read More

Write your own review!

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Readalikes

Readalikes Full readalike results are for members only

If you liked The Hollow Ground, try these:

  • Baker Towers jacket

    Baker Towers

    by Jennifer Haigh

    Published Feb 2013

    More about this book

    Read Reviews

    A compelling story of love and loss in a western Pennsylvania mining town in the years after World War II.

  • Tell the Wolves I'm Home jacket

    Tell the Wolves I'm Home

    by Carol Rifka Brunt

    Published Feb 2013

    More about this book

    Read Reviews

    In this striking literary debut, Carol Rifka Brunt unfolds a moving story of love, grief, and renewal as two lonely people become the unlikeliest of friends and find that sometimes you don't know you've lost someone until you've found them.

Non-members are limited to two results. Become a member


Search Readalikes again
How we choose readalikes
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!
Member Benefits

Join Now!

Check the advantages!
Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year

    •  
    • FREE
    • MEMBER
    • Range of media reviews for each book
    • Excerpts of all featured books
    • Author bios, interviews and pronunciations
    • Browse by genre
    • Book club discussions
    • Book club advice and reading guides
    • BookBrowse reviews and "beyond the book" back-stories
    •  
    • Reviews of notable books ahead of publication
    •  
    • Free books to read and review (US Only)
    •  
    • Browse for the best books by time period, setting & theme
    •  
    • Read-alike suggestions for thousands of books and authors
    •  
    • 'My Reading List" to keep track of your books
    •  
Sign up, win books!

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket: Take This Man
    Take This Man
    by Brando Skyhorse
    "A chorus of six men calling me Son might sound ludicrous to you, but to me it's the sound of ...
  • Book Jacket: The Hundred-Year House
    The Hundred-Year House
    by Rebecca Makkai
    Rebecca Makkai's sophomore novel The Hundred-Year House could just have easily been titled ...
  • Book Jacket
    The Valley of Amazement
    by Amy Tan
    "Mirror, Mirror on the wall
    I am my mother after all!"


    In my pre-retirement days as a professor ...

First Impressions

Members read and review books ahead
of publication. See what they think
in First Impressions!

Books that
expand your
horizons.

Visitors can view a lot of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only

Find out more.

Book Discussions
Book Jacket

The Arsonist
by Sue Miller

Published Jun. 2014

Join the discussion!

  1.  133Tomlinson Hill:
    Chris Tomlinson

All Discussions

Win this book!
Win The Angel of Losses

The Angel of Losses

"Family saga, mystery, and myth intersect in Feldman's debut novel." - Booklist

Enter

Word Play

Solve this clue:

E C H A Silver L

and be entered to win..

Books thatinspire you.Handpicked.

Books you'll stay up all night reading; books that will whisk you to faraway places and times, books that will expand your mind and inspire you -- the kinds of books you just can't wait to tell your friends about.