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.