The Hollow Ground: A Novel (Paperback)
Winner of the 2014 Appalachian Book of the Year Award in Fiction
Winner of the John Gardner Fiction Book Award
Longlisted for the 2016 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 eleven-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 any in contemporary literature.
About the Author
NATALIE S. HARNETT is an MFA graduate of Columbia. She is a winner of the Sandra Schor Award for Fiction and Poetry and the James Kruezer Award for Most Promising Poet. She has been awarded an Edward Albee Fellowship, a Summer Literary Seminars Fellowship, and a Vermont Studio Center Writer’s Grant. Harnett has been published in The Madison Review and The MacGuffin. She lives on Long Island with her husband and toddler.
“In this evocative debut novel, a 12-year-old girl narrates the story of her family's life in a mining town where the very bowels of the earth are ablaze. Brigid Howley is as unforgettable as Francie in A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, and hands down this is the best novel of 2014.” —Providence Journal
“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.” —Booklist
“Brigid is no ordinary hard-luck heroine; her voice rings true, offering a matter-of-fact telling that never falls into self-pity or melodrama. Set against the 1960s Pennsylvania coal mine fires, this debut novel is a dark and rewarding read.” —Library Journal
“In 1960s Pennsylvania mining country, a young woman experiences the curse that's plagued her Irish-American family for decades. A murder mystery, coming-of-age novel, and family saga all in one.” —San Diego Magazine "5 Books to Read This Month"
"A totally engrossing read with lots of little mysteries as Brigid strives to makes sense of life events... sure to become a classic."—Fresh Fiction, "Fresh Pick"
“The best novel so far this year… Harnett's pitch-perfect rendition of the coming-of-age voice…is achingly real, endlessly sympathetic, with just the right touch of childlike perception of adult truths. The 1960s setting is rendered with fine, original details…a finely wrought novel with an original voice, a compelling story and an unforgettable heroine.” —Providence Journal
“In Natalie S. Harnett's accomplished debut novel there's more than a hint of Eugene O'Neill in this atmospheric meditation on the legacy of a generational curse once pronounced by an Irish priest on a Pennsylvania mining community....In The Hollow Ground Harnett has written an impressively nimble debut novel.” —Irish Central
“[The Hollow Ground] is being compared to 'A Tree Grows in Brooklyn' and 'To Kill a Mockingbird' so the story woven by Harnett...is not lacking for scope or ambition.” —Irish Echo
“This cursed Irish-American clan will grab you by the brisket and not let go. Delicious reading!” —Gary Shteyngart, New York Times bestselling author of Super Sad True Love Story
“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.” —Rebecca Newberger Goldstein, Whiting Writer's Award winner and author of 36 Arguments for the Existence of God
“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.” —David Gates, Pulitzer Prize finalist and author of The Wonders of the Invisible World
“A grand achievement, a story fierce in its honesty about family love and betrayal.” —Maureen Howard, National Book Critics Circle Award winner
“Natalie S. Harnett in The Hollow Ground has captured the essence of the people, history and culture of Pennsylvania's Anthracite Region, and how too often the small towns here, most notably the real-life Centralia, faced existential threats from coal mine fires that seemed to burn forever.” —David DeKok, author of Fire Underground: The Ongoing Tragedy of the Centralia Mine Fire