Saturday, June 14, 2014

Book Spotlight and a Giveaway! Baker Towers by Jennifer Haigh

Baker Towers

Baker Towers by Jennifer Haigh
Paperback, 368 pages
Published December 27th 2005 by Harper Perennial 

Jennifer Haigh's first novel, Mrs. Kimble, was an auspicious debut about three women who marry the same man--consecutively--and their ability to kid themselves about who he is, and, more to the point, who they are. It won the PEN/Hemingway Award, given annually for best first fiction. Haigh has beaten the sophomore slump with another page-turner: Baker Towers. The action, such as it is, takes place in post-World War II Bakerton, a Pennsylvania mining town. "...[T]he town's most famous landmark, known locally as the Towers, two looming piles of mine waste. They are forty feet high and growing... The mines were not named for Bakerton; Bakerton was named for the mines. This is an important distinction. It explains the order of things. Haigh lets us know this on page two, setting the backdrop for the family drama of the Novaks.

The story begins with the death of Stanley Novak, wife of Rose and father of Georgie, Dorothy, Joyce, Lucy, and Sandy. This is an Italian-Polish marriage, tolerated, but a break with the town's tradition. The personality, temperament and needs of all five Novaks are made clear to us by their choices--although they are not always clear to the Novaks. Their interaction, with each other and their community, is the stuff of the novel. Life revolves around the mines, the Church, gossip, and sports. Many times throughout the book it seems that Haigh is using a camera rather than a pen, so perfectly does she create a scene for the reader.

Georgie struggles to get away from Bakerton after his military service by going to Philadelphia and marrying the boss's daughter, a decision he lives to regret. Dorothy gets a job in D.C., but never really fits into the scene. A breakdown brings her home for good. Joyce joins the military, is appalled by the way she is treated, and hastens home to care for her ailing mother. Lucy, overweight and unwelcome with the "in" crowd, longs to be Fire Queen, the pinnacle of acceptance in Bakerton. Sandy, handsome and unreliable, leaves for big city life, finds it, and comes home periodically to hide out.

Haigh has captured these people's lives as they play out, more acted upon than acting. None of the Novaks is self-reflective; the girls accept the status quo, the boys escape and find that they have taken themselves with them. A foreshadowing of the changes that will take place is symbolized by a horrific mine explosion at the end of the book. This life that Haigh has so carefully described will soon disappear forever, for good or ill, but she has illuminated its current reality with a sure hand. --Valerie Ryan

About the author

Jennifer Haigh is an American novelist and short story writer. Her most recent novel, FAITH (HarperCollins, 2010), tells the story of a beloved Boston priest accused of a molesting a child. Her previous novels include the New York Times bestsellers THE CONDITION and BAKER TOWERS, winner of the 2006 PEN/L. L. Winship Award for outstanding book by a New England author. Her critically acclaimed debut novel MRS. KIMBLE won the 2004 PEN/Hemingway Award for first fiction.

Jennifer Haigh's next book, a collection of short stories entitled NEWS FROM HEAVEN, will be published in February 2013. In it she returns to the landscape of Bakerton, the western Pennsylvania coal town that is the setting for BAKER TOWERS. Characters from that novel -- indomitable Joyce Novak, her eccentric sister Dorothy and mysterious younger brother Sandy -- will return for encore performances.

Haigh was raised in Pennsylvania and earned a Master of Fine Arts degree from the Iowa Writers' Workshop in 2002. Her short stories have been published widely, in The Atlantic, Granta, Ploughshares and many other places, including the forthcoming Best American Short Stories 2012. She lives in the Boston area.

Connect with Jennifer

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  1. Sounds like a great book. Thanks for having the giveaway.

  2. Sounds like a good book, I can't wait to read it.

  3. This novel sounds captivating. Thanks for this feature and giveaway. saubleb(at)gmail(dot)com

  4. Sounds like an interesting read. I love the setting for this book. Thanks for having the giveaway.

  5. Interesting time period

  6. This sounds like an awesome book! Thanks for the giveaway!


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