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.
"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
"Maybe the only thing stranger than the pain families inflict upon one another is the fact that one survives it. Carole Gaunt has made a beautiful story of all that, without a false note, a word wasted, or a flinch. One is grateful for this memoir and for the author who, as a child, kept her eyes open."—Roger Rosenblatt , author of Lapham Rising: A Novel
"A vivid portrait of the transgenerational effects of alcoholism and a courageous response to the disease. . . . The book captures the essence of the isolation, fear, and sadness of a girl who, instead of having a childhood, lived a dilemma—doing all the right things, being a good girl who realizes that everything she does she does alone or under an umbrella of shame and wishful thinking, living in a home overshadowed by the effects of alcoholism from one generation to the next."—Maureen McGlame , director, COASA (Children of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse), Robert F. Kennedy Children's Action Corps
"To paraphrase Tolstoy, ‘Happy families are all alike, but every alcoholic family is unhappy in its own way.' In this powerful memoir, Carole Gaunt writes of being the only girl in a family with seven brothers and an alcoholic father, following the early death of her mother. For those of us who also grew up around alcoholism, her story and insights are poignant and involving. . . . Reading about the author seeking out jobs so she would never have to ask her stepmother for money gave me a feeling of measured triumph in how the small choices an individual makes can lead the way out of family traps; looking for those jobs and deciding to look to herself for stability rather than to the crazy adults around her was the beginning of health. But the book also shows how dysfunctional families rob their children of trust and innocence way too soon, and how that haunts them in their later years. A moving story."—Christopher Durang, author of Christopher Durang: 27 Short Plays
"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, Midwest Book Review
"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."—Kirkus Reviews
"Heat Wave: the summer’s best books sizzle with glamorous women, intrepid adventurers, and family secrets . . .Those with an appetite for personal history will be gratified by Hungry Hill: A Memoir (University of Massachusetts Press), Carole O’Malley Gaunt’s moving account of her mother’s death, her father’s alcoholism, and growing up with seven brothers in sixties Springfield, Massachusetts."—Vogue
"Gaunt, the only girl of eight O'Malley children, breaks the silence of an alcoholic's daughter in this remarkably moving memoir, which begins when her mother dies of cancer in 1959. Carole, 13, feels responsible for her younger brothers, while her father, who increasingly turns to drink, does little to help. Unable to cope, he burdens his daughter with adult tasks, from leaving her alone with the priest as he administers the last rites to her mother to telling Carole to hold the fort and sending her off with a credit card to buy the new family sofa. Gaunt describes the often humorous details of her Catholic high-school days, but hidden among the good grades, disappointing cheerleader tryouts, and writing awards is the sad lack of her father's attention to anything she does, meritorious or otherwise. The siblings know his whiskey bottle is ever present, but they don't recognize his alcoholism until shortly before he drinks himself to death at age 47. Gaunt's poignant story is undoubtedly not unique, but it is a family history deftly, candidly told."—Booklist
"Carole O'Malley Gaunt tells her story unblinkingly, without sentiment, leavened with humor and humanity."—Tom Shea, The Republican