Springfield’s Hungry Hill stages novel about life after loss
As a novelist, Eileen Patricia Curran draws inspiration from settings and characters that are familiar to her, so for her first novel, that meant the Hungry Hill section of Springfield.
Entitled “Hungry Hill”, the book revolves around Grace Cavanaugh, a young widow whose husband, Michael, died suddenly the previous year. With her world upside down, she abandons her upscale home and life in Greenwich, Connecticut, and moves in with her great-aunt Maggie Reilly, 86, who lives in the Hungry Hill neighborhood. Newly diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer, the brave octogenarian has lived her entire life in the same tiny brownstone on Cleveland Street, but is now afraid of being alone and cared for by strangers.
The heart of the story takes place over a three-month period in the summer of 2019, before COVID-19 made it difficult for strangers to interact.
âIt’s much easier to write what you know as an author, and my Irish roots have always played a big part in my life,â Curran said. “I imagined what it would be like to return to Hungry Hill as an adult after a personal crisis, and what it would take to reconnect with an eccentric great-aunt who now operated on the fringes of my life, threatened with extinction.”
Grace is determined to make things easier for Maggie, but struggles to find the best way to help herself. Skilled at maneuvering around certain topics and emotions and fearing to move on with her life, Grace’s time with Maggie proves to be more useful than Grace could have imagined. As Grace eventually realizes, she didn’t move to Hungry Hill to save Maggie – she did to save herself.
Next door neighbor Matt Quinn is also willing and able to help. Grace and Matt discover that they have a lot in common despite their 10-year age difference, and that a bond is formed in their shared commitment to Maggie. The romance soon blossoms, but the added pressure of dealing with an unexpected relationship on top of dealing with Maggie is an act of juggling that Grace must find a way to navigate.
âFor me, the whole point of writing ‘Hungry Hill’ was to find a way to ensure that my protagonist survived the loss and continued with his or her life,â Curran said. “This isn’t always how it works in real life, but sometimes the whole point of fiction is to take the reader on a journey that ends in a positive outcome.”
Because people are interconnected, Curran imagines that the hardest grief to bear would be grief alone. âI was wondering what would happen if Grace chose to keep everyone at bay for a long time and how that would impact her ability to deal with her husband’s death,â she said. âShe didn’t really start mourning Michael’s death in a constructive way until she was once again facing death with Maggie. She didn’t have to deal with this loss on her own, however. In my mind, it made a huge difference.
Grace Cavanaugh is a totally fictional character, but the author stepped in her shoes and allowed herself to feel what she felt, then responded in a way she hopes will be genuine to the reader. âAnyone who reads ‘Hungry Hill’ can claim to know me at least a little bit,â Curran said. Grace âdefinitely shares my sense of humor, but she’s probably a little more sarcastic and materialistic than me. It was fun to take that part of me to a whole new level. Plus, Grace and I definitely share the love of shoes and dogs!
Like his protagonist, the author has suffered various losses in life. âI think it would be difficult to write about the loss of someone you love completely without going through it yourself. Loss is universal – we all experience it to varying degrees – but its nature and form is very specific to the individual, âCurran said. âWith Grace, I tried to imagine a loss that was completely crippling. What would I do? How could I overcome the loss enough to have any life again? If you’re really lucky, you manage to find a village to help you out, even accidentally – and that’s what I wrote.
Curran was born in Holyoke and raised in Ludlow and East Longmeadow, the daughter of Lois Elaine Doy and Joseph Edward Curran – a third generation Curran who lived in the family home at Hungry Hill.
The house was familiar to the author when he was a child; she spent many afternoons visiting her family in the living room by the kitchen. His great aunt, Catherine Curran, has lived in the house all of her life. She remains a vivid and memorable character in the author’s mind, and Curran’s observations about her helped shape the character of the fictional Maggie Reilly.
Curran’s memories of Hungry Hill were an important part of his childhood and made him feel connected to the Irish Catholic side of my family. âIt was easy to recreate Hungry Hill in my mind, even after several decades of living elsewhere; I have a lot of fictitious ones, but I tried to stay true to the feeling of the neighborhood and its occupants, âsaid Curran, who has vivid memories of driving to the Church of Our Lady of the Hope to bring his great-aunt Catherine to evening mass.
Curran attended Pioneer Valley Academy in New Braintree and the University of Texas at Dallas, where she graduated with a bachelor’s degree in economics and finance in 1984. She received a master’s degree in marketing and finance from Boston College in 1988.
She has lived in Florida since 2009.
Curran is currently working on “Gatorland”, her second novel, and in many ways it will mirror the voice she cultivated in “Hungry Hill”.
âIt’s definitely a fun novel to write, though. There is no heartache, and it’s meant to entertain, âshe said. This is a transplant from New England to Florida (not autobiographical, but largely based on his experiences) who buys a bar and motel in a coastal town and gets in some trouble.
Published in June by Kinsale Press, it’s available in hardcover ($ 26.99), softcover ($ 17.99), and Kindle ($ 12.99). It has 260 pages.