Hungry Hill: A Memoir

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Overview

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. The author recounts her sad and turbulent story with remarkable clarity, humor, and insight, punctuating the narrative with 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.

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.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

Playwright Gaunt was 13 when her father went out one morning to do errands with her seven brothers in the family car. He told her to let the priest in, if he knocked-neglecting to mention that the priest was coming to administer Last Rites to her dying mother. After the funeral, her father told her that since she was so tough, he'd rely on her to look after her brothers. This being 1959, no one discussed her mother's cancer or her father's alcoholism. Still, Gaunt already understood how her father's behavior changed after a few drinks, how his hangovers became more and more debilitating. Before long, he found another woman to marry. He knew the stepmother slapped his children too freely, that she was emotionally erratic, but he enjoyed having an adult drinking companion. When alcohol made a widow of the nasty stepmother, Gaunt and her brothers endured a few more years of her unpleasantness before they were old enough to escape their loveless home. The saddest part of Gaunt's story is her feeling that she spent her youth parenting her brothers and her irresponsible father: "I was always a mother, never a daughter." In the end, Gaunt has written a poignant, heart-wrenching memoir. (June)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
The Midwest Book Review
This gripping memoir by playwright Carole O'Malley Gaunt is . . . extremely well-written as the author spent her childhood as a mother to her ailing mother, her brothers, and her father. No reader will remain dry-eyed with this sensitive account of growing up as the designated mom.
—Harriet Klausner
ForeWord Magazine
Four decades after the fact a measure of anger and self-pity lingers. 'I'm torn between letting the past go and learning from it,' she writes. Definitely more learning than letting go.
Kirkus Reviews
The pain-filled life of a teenager who lost her mother to cancer when she was 13 and her father to booze when she was 16. Among the many scenes that Gaunt recalls vividly from those years growing up in Hungry Hill, an Irish-American neighborhood in Springfield, Mass., is one of a priest administering last rites to her mother. The loss of her mother, whom Gaunt hadn't been told was dying, was life-altering, for it immediately saddled the teenager with heavy adult responsibilities. With a touch of humor and a sense of pride, Gaunt recounts the strain of trying to mother her seven unruly brothers, one of them only two years old. Her hard-drinking father, who calls her "a tough cookie," seems indifferent to her emotional needs: In an especially insensitive move, he has the family doctor inform her of his upcoming wedding. Gaunt depicts her new stepmother, Mary, as a hot-tempered hypochondriac whose love for parties abets the father's already serious addiction to what he calls "Irish medicine." When he dies, Mary, now the caretaker of his brood of eight, blackmails the children into meeting her behavior standards by threatening to walk out on them. Not only does the author write movingly of her dysfunctional family life, she provides an achingly honest picture of a teenager hungrily seeking at school the approval she does not receive at home. Although her father had told her that college was only for boys, in the end she escapes Hungry Hill by making her own way to university. Gaunt, now a playwright, has interspersed in the memoir six playlets featuring herself as an adult. The three in which she confronts her father are imaginary scenes demonstrating what she would have liked him to know,but the others-a sorrowful visit to her mother's grave, a compassionate, sadly disjointed talk with her heavily medicated stepmother in a nursing home and a revealing phone call to one of her brothers-appear to be real events. The many full conversations are not transcripts of actual dialogue, yet they have the ring of truth-as do all these recollections of the loneliness of a girl growing up first without a mother and then without a father.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781558495883
  • Publisher: University of Massachusetts Press
  • Publication date: 5/8/2007
  • Pages: 304
  • Product dimensions: 6.30 (w) x 9.20 (h) x 0.90 (d)

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