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Hungry Hill: A Memoir    by Carole O'Malley Gaunt order for
Hungry Hill
by Carole O'Malley Gaunt
Order:  USA  Can
University of Massachusetts, 2007 (2007)
Hardcover, Softcover

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* *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

In Hungry Hill, Carole O'Malley Gaunt tells the true story of what began as a normal childhood but was stunted by her mother Betty's 1959 death from lymphatic cancer followed by her father Joe's fast descent into alcoholism - and his subsequent death. Interspersed with the factual account are Carole O'Malley's imagined conversations with adults (mainly her long dead father) later in her life when she has raised her own children. In a fictional encounter, she tells her long dead father, 'I sensed you wanted a Pollyanna and that's what I tried to be.'

The O'Malleys lived in the Irish-Catholic working-class neighborhood of Hungry Hill in Springfield, Massachusetts. They had eight children, seven sons and one daughter, aged two to fifteen (Carole, was thirteen) at the time of Betty O'Malley's death. We see these events through the eyes of a sensitive teenage girl, caring for her younger siblings while struggling with school experiences and her own emotions, in particular with the deathbed promise she made to her mother to take care of the baby, two-year-old Tommy.

The author speaks of the shock of her mother's death - and of the fact that the truth of the cancer was kept from Betty O'Malley herself and from all but the eldest son during Betty's illness. She takes us through the traditional Irish-Catholic wake and funeral, with shopping on her own for her graduation dress, with the adult responsibilities she took on for the little ones (and for her father), and with all the children's reactions to her father's dating - and soon marrying - their mother's Maid-of-Honor, a hot-tempered hypochondriac and 'a very nervous woman', Mary Ford.

When Joe O'Malley succeeds in drinking himself to death, he leaves his eight children to the not so tender mercy of an easily enraged stepmother they find impossible to placate, 'the face slap her predictable weapon of choice.' Carole O'Malley writes of the legacy of the 'loneliness, the hurt, the secrecy, the isolation, the shame' and how she dealt with it as an adult. Her story, as told in Hungry Hill, is a tough but inspiring one, that makes absorbing reading.

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