Reviewer Tom Pope: Tom is a writing teacher and fiction coach who strives to spark the imagination. As a teacher, he works with tutoring services to help students organize essays and understand literary elements like the point of view. As a fiction coach, he aids authors to develop characters, brainstorm conflict pacing and design worldbuilding.
Follow Tom's BLOG that seeks to find the intersection where fiction meets reality. Through several sections, he shows the forces that surround characters in literature and the screen as the obstacles that shape us in reality.
The Hollow Ground
Author: Matalie S. Harnett
ISBN: 978-1-250-04198-2 hardcover
ISBN: 978-1-4668-3919-9 ebook
The Mine Terror Within
As young Brigid grows up, she sees her aunt disappear from a natural disaster as her mother shuts down her love and happy voice to young Brigid. But Brigid’s coming-of-age experience in Natalie S. Harnett’s novel, The Hollow Ground, draws readers into deeper problems. How can people show their love and connection when the past’s traditions throw the entire community in a closed-minded mentality?
Brigid finds herself thrown into the loss of her home, and then carted away to a relative’s home where anger fills the air from past rivalries. Yet Brigid’s biggest fear comes from a hovering curse that haunts her family.
Harnett pulls readers into the mind of Brigid, who doesn’t have background to know about her father’s role in the mine disaster, or the family squabbles. Readers are thrust into becoming detectives to put the pieces of the puzzle together.
The effort is worthwhile as they might discover that the curse’s power comes from traditions and a community mind-set.
A community mind-set or form of culture can be a force to control people. The use of tradition, whether in story telling or sneers from neighbors, change a person’s direction.
For Brigid, the mine disaster of her town stuck when a bright light blasted her windows and mine fires sucked air from the town and fired the large veins of coal underground, which made her feet feel like they walked on an forge. Yet that disaster lay dormant, waiting to explode from the unstable fires lurking underground from a previous mine disaster.
The novel takes a personal look at how families were affected by the coal mine fires that torched the Centralia and Carbondale area of Pennsylvania.
Yet the entire problem of those disasters hit with the cultural fears of a curse from the past and the struggle for decent working conditions that drove people to protest. Throughout the buildup of the novel, an overriding dirge of some curse that father never shares, torments her. Why does he shut down?
The problems with the mines goes back to the 1800s when Irish immigrants sought the aid of a secret society known as Molly Maguires, who fought for workers’ rights. Some of the acts stuck with violence that prompted hangings in 1877 at Pottsville and Mauch Chunk. The deaths angered one woman and a priest to curse the deaths.
Readers will wonder what happened in the shaft between Brigid’s father and her uncle Frank. Were they modern-day Maguires, trying to prevent a problem? Or acting as terrorists to destroy the mine? Who was the man one of them saw in the shaft? Was that another example of someone fighting for workers’ rights? Why did her father seem to have a dispute with that person?
Just as the reader is trying to put those puzzles together, the crusty mother of dad shows a constant stream of bickering with Brigid and her mother. What caused this?
By that point, readers will wonder why Brigid’s parents left the town of the grandparents to go elsewhere. They will wonder about why the parents chose to return. Were no other options available?
Brigid finds herself plagued by the curse from the time of the Molly Maguires. In an adventure down the mine shaft with a friend, Brigid stumbles over the skull and skeleton of a man who died during the recent mine disaster. The curse follows her, she thinks. Her friend leaves her because she thinks Brigid’s curse killed her father.
Who killed her friend’s father? Was it her father? Gramps, or someone else? Was her fried being controlled by the culture of the community? Was her acceptance of the curse showing how the community’s propaganda directed her actions?
Readers can almost hear the lost auntie’s tale about the vale of forgetting. Was she saying people should forget the problems they face? Or was she actually saying that people should forget the power of the controls from the past where traditions were built by fears and the need to hide the truth.
Read Harnett’s novel to see the power of the community to cover up greed, or family betrayals. Find how traditions can prevent people from finding new ways to view relationships, a person’s mistakes, or leaving to another city.
Follow Brigid as she deals with the loss of auntie when an explosion erupts to create a sink hole formed from the underground fire. Follow her as she sees the growth of fire zones claiming her town, and the happiness of her home.
Watch Brigid’s uncertainty as it grows with her trying to handle the curse inside her. See whether she forms friendships with another part of the family or whether she falls to the traditions from the past.
The questions Harnett raises makes the reader view the forces around themselves in their community and culture. Like the terror of the underground fires blasting the way to hurt a community on the surface, the inner guilt and fear of a person lies ready to explode into anger, mistrust, and violence.
The community can be strengthened by a resolve to support the members or be weakened by the fears from a controlled propaganda that saps the spirit from people.