Just as his indie-rock band was poised to make it big, Ben Dirjery traded it all in for fatherhood and the stability of a job at Bolster Hill Cemetery. Now closing in on fifty, the former guitarist finds himself divorced and at loose ends, and still haunted by the tragic death of his former band’s lead singer, who is buried, literally, under Ben’s feet.
These aren’t Ben’s only troubles. Protesters are rallying at the cemetery’s gates over a court-ordered exhumation of a beloved nineteenth-century hobo. Ben’s boss is blocking his push for green burials, which he hopes to offer in time for a dear, dying friend. And a new gravedigger is pressuring Ben to bring his guitar out of the closet to accompany him at an open-mike performance.
Meanwhile, Ben’s daughter, an aspiring musician, discovers his band’s music and begins questioning a past he has tried to bury. If he can face her questions, he might finally put to rest his guilt over his band mate’s death, and bring music back into his life.
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About the Author
Beth Castrodale has worked as a newspaper reporter and book editor. An excerpt from In This Ground was a shortlist finalist for a William Faulkner – William Wisdom Creative Writing Award. Her novel Marion Hatley (Garland Press, 2017) was a finalist for a Nilsen Prize for a First Novel from Southeast Missouri State University Press. Beth has published stories in such journals as Printer’s Devil Review, The Writing Disorder, and Mulberry Fork Review. To learn more about Beth’s work and sign up for her email newsletter, visit bethcastrodale.com.
“A reflective, compassionate, and gracefully written tale that effectively uses its historical setting.”
“Like Marion Hatley’s own creations, Beth Castrodale’s debut novel is sewn, sentence by elegant sentence, with exquisite care and beauty. With clear-eyed assurance it explores the burden of secrets, the virtue of perseverance, and the joys of renewal. As a portrait of a community—and life itself—it is deeply compassionate and utterly wondrous.”
—David Rowell, author of The Train of Small Mercies
“A beautiful story, beautifully told. Marion Hatley’s skills at creating women’s underthings designed to free them from the constrictions of the past are emblematic of the freedom she ultimately achieves.”
—Lee Jacobus, author of Hawaiian Tales, Crown Island, and The Romantic Soul of Emma Now
“An expert and articulate historical novel. The period details, class protest, and feminist protest are particularly engaging, as is the central character, Marion, whose resourcefulness recalls that of Zola’s Denise Badu in The Ladies’ Paradise.”
—DeWitt Henry, founding editor of Ploughshares, Emerson Professor Emeritus, and author of The Marriage of Anna Maye Potts
“Through her own trials and the trials of others she grows close to, Marion Hatley finds the heart within human frailty. . . . A thoroughly rewarding read.”
—Gilmore Tamny, author of My Days with Millicent
“Marion Hatley is as smooth to step into as the Whisper Lifts that Marion sews for her customers. The plot flows like silk, supporting her search for identity, honor, and love.”
—Audrey Schulman, author of The Cage, Swimming with Jonah, A House Named Brazil, and Three Weeks in December
“Castrodale offers profound insights into the characters who populate a Depression-era town—from women struggling for personal and financial independence to a soldier who has returned in body but not in spirit from World War I.”
—Grace Talusan, essayist and fiction writer
About Marion Hatley
To escape a big-city scandal, a Depression-era lingerie seamstress flees to the countryside, where she hopes to live and work in peace. Instead, she finds herself unraveling uncomfortable secrets about herself and those closest to her.
In February of 1931, Marion Hatley steps off a train and into the small town of Cooper’s Ford, hoping she’s left her big-city problems behind. She plans to trade the bustling hubbub of a Pittsburgh lingerie shop for the orderly life of a village schoolteacher. More significantly, she believes she’ll be trading her reputation-tainting affair with a married man for the dutiful quiet of tending to her sick aunt. Underpinning her hopes for Cooper’s Ford is Marion’s dream of bringing the daily, private trials of all corset-wearing women—especially working women—to an end, and a beautiful one at that.
Instead, she confronts new challenges: a mysteriously troubled student; frustrations in attempts to create a truly comfortable corset; and, most daunting, her ailing aunt. Once a virtual stranger to Marion, her aunt holds the key to old secrets whose revelation could change the way Marion sees her family and herself.
As her problems from Pittsburgh threaten to resurface in Cooper’s Ford, Marion finds herself racing against time to learn the truth behind these secrets and to get to the bottom of her student’s troubles. Meanwhile, Marion forms a bond with a local war veteran. But her past, and his, may be too much to sustain a second chance at happiness.
About the Author
Beth Castrodale started out as a newspaper reporter and editor, then transitioned to book publishing, serving for many years as an editor for an academic press. Marion Hatley was a finalist for the 2014 Nilsen Prize for a First Novel (Southeast Missouri State University Press). Beth’s other novels include Gold River and In This Ground, a shortlist finalist for a 2014 William Faulkner – William Wisdom Creative Writing Award. Her stories have appeared in Printer’s Devil Review, The Writing Disorder, Marathon Literary Review, and Mulberry Fork Review. She also recommends literary fiction at SmallPressPicks.com. To learn more about Beth’s work and sign up for her email newsletter, visit bethcastrodale.com
“Hannah is probably one of my favorite characters ever. I think we should all hope to have a little Hannah in us.”
–Elizabeth Ness, Goodreads
“Hannah’s Left Hook is a touching family saga to be read for enjoyment.”
—Historical Novel Society
“McKeown’s style is engaging and offers a realistic portrayal of the effects of war and poverty on ordinary families. His novel is both humorous and poignant and explores a range of personalities from meek and mild to fiery hot. I highly recommend it–one of the most enjoyable reads I’ve had in a long time!”
—Cybelle Greenlaw, Heronies of Fantasy Blog
About Hannah’s Left Hook
Through countless scrubbings of St. Lawrence’s Church floor, a poor washerwoman develops a devastating left hook. During the Great War she persuades the Birkenhead Shipyard to hire her as its first female laborer, beginning her transformation into a working-class legend.
Set in northwest England, Hannah’s Left Hook is a story of survival, feisty determination, and the occasional black eye. Hannah Corcoran and her family battle their way through the tumultuous events of the first half of the twentieth century. Whether it’s a butcher who thumbs his scales, a foreman who exploits female shipyard workers while their husbands and brothers fight the Great War, an agent provocateur who escalates the food riots of 1932, or a sergeant who drafts under-age boys during WW II—Hannah’s left hook strikes to defend the rights of the unemployed and the oppressed.
About the Author
Brian McKeown was born and raised in Birkenhead, England. His father was a docker and his mother was a clippie on the buses. He attended St. Anselm’s College, did a stint with the RAF and the Merchant Navy, and then studied electronics at Birkenhead Tech, which allowed him access to the fledgling computer industry. After being hired by an American computer company, he relocated to central Massachusetts where he has lived for the last thirty-five years. His first book, Enter at A, Laughing, is a collection of humorous essays.
Book Discussion Guide for Hannah’s Left Hook
- Hannah’s Left Hook is full of colorful secondary characters. Who are your favorites? Who do you consider the most despicable?
- How would the life of Hannah and her family have been different if there had been no Alf Richards?
- Do you think there’s any justification in Hannah’s views on Winston Churchill?
- Do you think anything as humiliating as the Means Test (Chapter Nine) could happen today?
- Do you think Hannah’s reaction to her daughter marrying a man of a different race was in line with the times?
- Birkenhead citizens thought of Hannah as a hero of the working class. What about Peter, her husband?
- Hannah worked in the shipyard for less than two years, yet it had a big impact on her life. If she had taken a “woman’s job,” in what ways do you think her life would have been different?
- Hannah’s Left Hook follows the struggles of a family through World War I, the Great Depression, and World War II. Do these struggles bring to mind any events in your own family history?
- From the prologue: “Some folks maintained that Hannah never clobbered anyone who didn’t deserve it. That will be for you to decide.” What did you decide?