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Hungry Hill: A Memoir [Paperback]

Carole O'Malley Gaunt

Price: 16.50 & FREE Delivery in the UK. Details
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Book Description

15 Jun 2007
On a sweltering June night in 1959, Betty O'Malley died from lymphatic cancer, leaving behind an alcoholic husband and eight shell-shocked children - seven sons and one daughter, ranging in age from two to fifteen years. The daughter, Carole, was thirteen at the time. In this poignant memoir, she recalls in vivid detail the chaotic course of her family life over the next four years. The setting for the story is Hungry Hill, an Irish-Catholic working-class neighborhood in Springfield, Massachusetts. Grief-stricken over his wife's death, Joe O'Malley, a mid-level executive at an insurance company, spends his nights on the living room sofa listening to the sentimental ballads of Frank Sinatra, a tumbler of whiskey always nearby. At first Carole struggles to pull her father back from his world of teary, booze-soaked memories. Slipping into her mother's role, she "holds the fort" and works at keeping her seven brothers in line, straining to give the shaky household a semblance of normalcy, while also trying to keep her own dreams alive. She is drawn to the high school world of dances, academic honors, and the excitement of her first kiss, but the weight of apprehension for her family sets her apart from that carefree social scene. Fifteen months after his wife's death, Joe takes a new wife - Mary Ford, a bristling and difficult woman. While Joe passes off Mary's outbreaks of rage and physical abuse as "nerves," the short-lived marriage turns into an endless merry-go-round of cocktail parties and hotel bars. Before long, Joe's health collapses and he dies, leaving his children orphaned for the second time. Carole O'Malley Gaunt recounts this sad story with remarkable clarity, humor, and insight. The narrative is punctuated by occasional fictional scenes that allow the adult Carole to comment on her teenage experiences and to probe the impact of her mother's death and her father's alcoholism.

Product details

  • Paperback: 192 pages
  • Publisher: University of Massachusetts Press (15 Jun 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1558495894
  • ISBN-13: 978-1558495890
  • Product Dimensions: 15 x 21.9 cm
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 3,942,601 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

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Product Description


"Hungry Hill is engaging and memorable.... One of the most endearing aspects of the book is its lack of guile and its feeling of authenticity - it glows with honesty." - Madeleine Blais, author of Uphill Walkers: Portrait of a Family "This book should be placed in time capsules in Springfield, Mass., and all across the country. It's more than a memoir. It's a social document, a story of a family, a document on the human heart. Since this is an Irish-American family the ingredients are almost predictable: nuns, priests, sacraments - and the battle with the bottle. What makes this book different is Carole Gaunt's wise prose. She writes with such compassion and understanding you'll look at your own family the same way." - Frank McCourt, author of Angela's Ashes and Teacher Man"

About the Author

An award-winning playwright, CAROLE O'MALLEY GAUNT lives with her husband in New York City and Sag Harbor. She is the mother of three daughters.

Inside This Book (Learn More)
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.1 out of 5 stars  14 reviews
13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Ring of Truth 23 July 2007
By Andrea Sonn - Published on
This memoir could have been a wrenching tearjerker, but Carole Gaunt, who lost both her parents in her teens and raised her seven younger brothers, presents her story with journalistic sincerity. It is packed with details of coming of age in the early 60's and the exquisite detail has the absolute ring of truth. It compares very well to Molly O'Neill's "Mostly True: A memoir of Family, Food, and Baseball", and to Terry Ryan's "The Prizewinner of Defiance Ohio: How My Mother Raised Ten Kids on 25 Words or Less". It's an engrossing read.
11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Tale of Spirit 3 Aug 2007
By Francis J. Lynch - Published on
In the interest of full diclosure, I went to grammar school and high school with Carole. I knew many of the people and places in the book. I did not, however, know the details of her home life. I recall being in awe of the girl with no parents who appeared so together in High School. The book tells a much different story and gives me a much greater appreciation of her struggles and her success.

Carole mixes narrative with brief dialogues between her and her deceased parents, her stepmother, or her brother. These scenes are sometimes riveting. The scene with her stepmother in a nursing home is amazing, as Carole searches for some understanding of the past with a woman whose mental capacities are clearly gone. By the last of these scenes - a call to one of her many brothers - I wanted to leap in and ask dozens of questions while I had the two of them on the line!!

The book covers 1959 to 1963. Prior to JFK's death and the escalation of Vietnam, the "1960's" as we know them today had yet to begin. Our High School years were really an extension of the 1950's. "Hungry Hill" accurately captures attitudes, lifestyles, and social structures that were eroded or even swept away in the 10 years following our graduation from Cathedral High School. It gives a wonderful picture of the neighborhood in the waning days of America's Post-WWII euphoria. Carole is spot-on with her descriptions of the clergy, local officials and the other adults in our lives. Her description of our Senior Prom was both funny and sad.

"Hungry Hill" also tells a touching story of a child who had the inner strength to cope with some of the most devastating events a child can witness.
13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars More Fascinating than Fiction 6 Aug 2007
By Julia McDonough - Published on
I never met a memoir I didn't like, because the story of a life is more fascinating than fiction. With painstakingly vivid recall and acute attention to detail, Carole O'Malley Gaunt took this reader on a roller coater ride down memory lane. Irish-Catholic baby boomers will identify with Carole's upbringing, but very few of us can come remotely close to her tragic experiences.

The second oldest in a family of eight children, Carole compromised her adolescence to help raise her brothers and run the household after the untimely death of her beautiful mother. Even though the family was fortunate enough to employ outside help, the charming but alcoholic Dad did little to hold it together except to drown his sorrows in whiskey and Frank Sinatra songs. And if that scenario wasn't heartbraking enough, enter the wicked stepmother who would give anyone feelings of violence. Not long thereafter, Mr. O'Malley drank himself to an early grave.

Depsite the sorrow and dysfunction, this is a hopeful and triumphant story of a brave, bright girl coming of age during the Camelot years. Even though the author is a few years older than this reviewer, her memoir revived recollections of old-fashioned department stores, soda fountains, parks, proms, beaches, basketball games, Catholic high school activities, after-school and summer jobs ... and Elvis. I am very grateful that Carole kindly included an epilogue so that we didn't have to wonder what happened to her brothers. HUNGRY HILL deserves best-seller status and a sequel.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars From the Heart! 23 Jan 2008
By Shirley Priscilla Johnson - Published on
In this moving memoir we meet Carole. She is thrown into growing-up without a mom at the young age of 13, after her mother passes. Carole is sister to 7 brothers, and being the oldest puts her in the position by her father to fill in the gap, so to speak. Responsibilities are placed upon her that no 13-year old should have to endure. She daily struggles to keep the family afloat the best way she can.
It only becomes worse when her father marries Mary, a woman who is anything but a replacement mother. Her erratic emotions and her need for complete attention only add more horror to the family situation. Life is not easy for any of the children, but it is certainly hardest on Carole.
This memoir is written from the heart of one who has cried many a tear, prayed many a prayer, and battled many a war. All before she could vote, or cry out in protest. It is a hard look at the cruel turn life often brings to those undeserving. I feel writing this story allowed the author the release she desperately needed. I don't feel it is a story that is the author's alone, but one that many would relate to in one form or another, and that is the power behind it.
A well written, heart-wrenching memoir that you will remember for a long while after putting the book down. Very well done.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A girl robbed of her childhood 11 Mar 2009
By N. B. Kennedy - Published on
I wasn't sure I was up for another entry in the "misery lit" category, but I'm glad to have read this book. While Carole O'Malley Gaunt does recount a childhood blasted by disease, death, violence and alcohol, she refrains from making it the sole focus of her story.

Many memoirs of this type, by focusing on the offending family members instead of on the victims, leave you with little sense of the author. But because of the scenes and conversations the author chooses, the reader learns more about how the death of her mother from cancer, of her father from alcoholism, and of the orphans' lives under an abusive stepmother affected her as a child.

The author clearly shows us through small, daily scenes and honest inner dialog how she was robbed of her childhood. For instance, she resents that her mother's death prevents her from going to her class picnic. How honest that memory is! She is consumed by guilt when she neglects to pack her brothers' bathing suits for a beach vacation. From the start, she was conscripted into the role of caregiver -- the only girl with seven brothers, no mother and an alcoholic father.

The author uses an unusual narrative device, inserting play-like scenes based on real or imagined interviews with family members to shed more light on how she and her siblings processed their stricken childhood. At first, I was put off by the interruptions, but I came to like the immediacy of the interactions. In the first such instance, an imagined conversation with the father, her anguish over a huge act of abandonment while her mother lay dying almost jumps off the page and grabs you. I don't think the effect would have been as intense in a more conventional narrative form.

I did think the book was weighed down somewhat by the accumulation of details. The drawn-out recounting of her mother's wake and funeral almost made me quit reading the book. I'm glad I persevered, though. And I was glad that at the end she mentioned the fates of all the siblings, though it's sad that apparently alcoholism has claimed some of this generation, too.
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