BAKER TOWERS by Jennifer Haigh

Baker I just finished another excellent book from Jennifer Haigh – Baker Towers.

Baker Towers is about the Novak family of Bakerton, PA – a mother and her five children living in a coal town in the 40s. The book looks at the heyday of company towns, ethnic neighborhoods united by a common line of work, and America’s industrial history, all through the lives of Rose Novak and her children – sons who move away, and daughters who stay close to home.

I loved Baker Towers for two reasons. The first is the subject matter – the rise and fall of this quintessentially American town, and the exploitation of its citizens, particularly the black-lung afflicted miners doing dangerous, backbreaking work, by the engine of capitalism and profit. I love American history, and I greatly enjoyed the world Haigh recreated through painstaking detail and research. I also liked how the families in this book remained entwined throughout multiple generations.

The second is Haigh’s incredible storytelling and writing. She is the master of understatement – just like in Mrs. Kimble and The Condition, the writing in Baker Towers always had me hanging on every word, wanting more. She doles out plot and character sparingly, but with precision and perfect pacing – one can never skim a Haigh novel for fear of missing something crucial.

Here is a passage I especially liked:

Ed sighed. This was another problem with Catholics: nobody ever died. Joyce often spoke of her parents looking down from heaven – sometimes with pride or amusement, but usually with disapproval or downright horror. This struck Ed as a terrible burden, this sense of being watched by all your dead relatives, by numberless saints who’d been dead a thousand years but still kept a hand in things, interceding for the sick, finding lost objects, looking out for coal miners and whoever else had a dangerous job. Ed believed in God, but he also believed in death.

Jennifer Haigh has quickly become one of my favorite authors. I really hope she has another book coming out soon! In the meantime, if you haven’t read any of her novels, I highly, highly recommend them.

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16 Comments

  • February 5, 2010 - 7:05 am | Permalink

    LOVED this book! My family is from a town near the fictional Baker Towers, and my aunt actually worked w/ Ms. Haigh’s mom. I treasured this book because it was so real for me — my grandfather was a coal miner. Ms. Haigh is one of my favorite writers!

  • February 5, 2010 - 9:07 am | Permalink

    This sounds wonderful! I love writing that has me hanging on every word.

  • February 5, 2010 - 10:35 am | Permalink

    I loved Mrs. Kimble, but I haven’t read her other two books. Thanks for reminding me of what a wonderful writer she is!

  • February 5, 2010 - 12:54 pm | Permalink

    I read this book a few years ago but I really loved it too. I felt a lot from it but I also learned a lot, such as the issue of women working in Washington DC during the war. That was new to me. I so appreciate a novel that is not overtly didactic in nature but still introduces you to new elements of history or science (same thing w/Turner’s Syndrome in The Condition).

  • February 5, 2010 - 3:01 pm | Permalink

    I picked this one for my book club a couple of years ago, and everyone really liked it. I have THE CONDITION in TBR and hope to get to it soon. Jennifer Haigh is becoming one of my must-read authors.

  • February 5, 2010 - 7:51 pm | Permalink

    I haven’t heard of this before…sounds interesting and there is something I just like about that cover.
    Stay warm with all the snow!

  • February 5, 2010 - 8:46 pm | Permalink

    I can tell I would love this book just from that passage alone!

  • Sarah
    February 5, 2010 - 9:43 pm | Permalink

    Gayle — A lovely review. I, too, loved “Baker Towers.” It was simply a beautifully told story. I can’t remember a book that has left me feeling more satisfied (except, perhaps, “Mrs. Kimble”). Jennifer Haigh is a gifted story teller. Her writing is beautiful. I hope she continues to produce more wonderful books in the years to come.

  • February 5, 2010 - 10:01 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for all the comments. If you haven’t read this yet, put it on the top of your TBR list!

  • February 5, 2010 - 10:24 pm | Permalink

    I thoroughly enjoyed her other two novels, I will have to add this to my list.

  • Judy Norkin
    February 6, 2010 - 12:44 pm | Permalink

    Great to see your review, I’ve read all of Ms. Haigh’s books, she’s one of my favorite authors.

  • February 8, 2010 - 4:26 pm | Permalink

    This sounds really interesting! I’ll have to ad it to my TBR pile.

  • February 11, 2010 - 10:12 am | Permalink

    I haven’t yet read anything by Jennifer Haigh, despite having THE CONDITION on my wish list! I do have BAKER TOWERS on my bookshelf waiting for me; I’ll have to bring it up to the stack on the nightstand :)

  • February 11, 2010 - 1:02 pm | Permalink

    Dawn, glad to see you have the same priority system that I have, though mine goes bookshelf –> pile on floor –> nightstand.

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