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:

  • First Published:
    May 2014, 336 pages
    Paperback:
    Aug 2015, 336 pages

  • 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

lois vonk

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

Kat F. (Palatine, IL)

It pulled me in and didn't let go
I started this book when I received it a month or two ago. Life got in the way and I had to put it down. Last week on a cruise I started it again and just couldn't put it down. It is truly an engrossing story on a couple of levels. I had watched ...   Read More

Robin M. (Newark, DE)

The Hollow Ground will leave a hole in your heart
I wanted to read this book because it begins when I am a baby and takes place not far from where I live. The book focuses almost completely on the local area and local events, with little reference to national historical events, which is perfect, as...   Read More

Mary M. (Lexington, KY)

Fires and Secrets
The coal fires in 1960's Pennsylvania provide the background for this book. The story is narrated by Brigid a young girl and revolves around her family. The family has to deal with hardship and turmoil some of which is caused by the fires and some ...   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:

  • The Secret Wisdom of the Earth jacket

    The Secret Wisdom of the Earth

    by Christopher Scotton

    Published 2016

    More about this book

    Read Reviews

    Timely and timeless, this is a dramatic and deeply moving novel about an act of violence in a small, Southern town and the repercussions that will forever change a young man's view of human cruelty and compassion.

  • Tell the Wolves I'm Home jacket

    Tell the Wolves I'm Home

    by Carol Rifka Brunt

    Published 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
    •  

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket
    Stalin's Daughter
    by Rosemary Sullivan
    "There is something fatal about my life. You can't regret your fate, though I do regret my ...
  • Book Jacket: A Certain Age
    A Certain Age
    by Beatriz Williams
    Lovers of high-society gossip, there's a new set of players in town. A good 20 out of 23 of our...
  • Book Jacket: The Romanovs
    The Romanovs
    by Simon Sebag Montefiore
    The Romanovs chronicles the reigns of the 20 individuals who were considered members of that dynasty...

First Impressions

  • Book Jacket

    The Imperial Wife
    by Irina Reyn

    A smart, engaging novel that parallels two fascinating worlds and two singular women.

    Read Member Reviews

  • Book Jacket

    Falling
    by Jane Green

    "Readers who enjoy a love story with heart will adore this tale of homecoming and transformation." - LJ

    Read Member Reviews

Members review books pre-publication. Read their opinions in First Impressions

Book Discussions
Book Jacket
Girl Waits with Gun
by Amy Stewart

An enthralling novel based on the forgotten true adventures of one of the nation's first female deputy sheriffs.

About the book
Join the discussion!
Summer Stunner
Summer Giveaway

Win 5 books, each week in July!

Enter

Word Play

Solve this clue:

W M T N, W C F All

and be entered to win..

Books that     
entertain,
     engage

 & enlighten

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

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends books that we believe to be best in class. Books that will whisk you to faraway places and times, that will expand your mind and challenge you -- the kinds of books you just can't wait to tell your friends about.

 
X

BookBrowse Summer Giveaway

We're giving away
5 books every
week in July!