Monday, 19 May 2014

The Hollow Ground

Author: Natalie S Harnett
Genre: Historical Fiction
Type: Kindle e-book (ARC)
Source: NetGalley
Publisher: St Martin's Press
First Published: May 13, 2014
First Line: "We walk on fire or air, so Daddy liked to say."

Book Description from GoodReadsSet 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.

Disclaimer:  My sincere thanks to St Martin's Press and NetGalley for providing me with a complimentary e-book copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

My Review: One of the things that I love about a good historical fiction read is that sometimes it places me in a time and situation that I knew nothing about.  The Hollow Ground dropped me down right smack dab in the middle of the Pennsylvania underground mine fires which started years before and had been burning underground ever since.  Seeing how it threatened to destroy the town and displace people from the only homes they'd known (while the government hid behind red tape and legalities) was the most interesting part of the book for me. 

Unfortunately, I didn't feel that the characters were as well-developed as I had hoped.  I can't say that I felt a connection or empathy for any of the characters.  Even though the reader sees the devastation through Brigid's young eyes as she describes the upheaval and loss at having to leave their home and the loss of her aunt, I still had a hard time getting emotionally invested in her story.  It was sad, drab and depressing, no doubt.  But the connection with the characters is what this story was lacking.

I was also disappointed that the mystery surrounding the mine and even the family curse wasn't more suspenseful or dealt with more in the book.  The Hollow Ground was much more of a look into family dynamics as Brigid describes her impoverished life in a small Pennsylvania coal town on the brink of environmental disaster.  Her family is in constant turmoil as Brigid struggles to live with her two dysfunctional and neglectful parents who have their own demons to deal with.

While this wasn't the page turner that I had expected it to be I appreciate that I now know more about an era and situation that I knew nothing about previously.  I would consider this a good book for people looking for a dark, historical read.

My Rating: 3/5 stars

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