Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Review: News From Heaven by Jennifer Haigh

News From Heaven
Author: Jennifer Haigh
Published: January 29, 2013
Genre: fiction
Hardcover: 224 pages
Source: received a copy from the publisher

My Rating: 3.5 stars

Synopsis (from GoodReads): When her iconic novel Baker Towers was published in 2005, it was hailed as a modern classic--"compassionate and powerful . . . a song of praise for a too-little-praised part of America, for the working families whose toils and constancy have done so much to make the country great" (Chicago Tribune). Its young author, Jennifer Haigh, was "an expert natural storyteller with an acute sense of her characters' humanity" (New York Times).

Now, in this collection of interconnected short stories, Jennifer Haigh returns to the vividly imagined world of Bakerton, Pennsylvania, a coal-mining town rocked by decades of painful transition. From its heyday during two world wars through its slow decline, Bakerton is a town that refuses to give up gracefully, binding--sometimes cruelly--succeeding generations to the place that made them. A young woman glimpses a world both strange and familiar when she becomes a live-in maid for a Jewish family in New York City. A long-absent brother makes a sudden and tragic homecoming. A solitary middle-aged woman tastes unexpected love when a young man returns to town. With a revolving cast of characters--many familiar to fans of Baker Towers--these stories explore how our roots, the families and places in which we are raised, shape the people we eventually become.

My Thoughts: This collection of short stories has Jennifer Haigh revisiting the town of Bakerton, site of her wonderful novel, Baker Towers (which I read a few years ago). I loved the novel and how well Haigh wrote about small town life in a company town. While this collection of stories is based upon that novel, it is in no way necessary to read that one before picking up this book. In fact, I remembered the basic point of Baker Towers, but not much else, and was able to pick up this book and get lost with these character and their stories.
Since this is a collection of short stories, each chapter is devoted to one person, with all of them being linked together in some way (it becomes apparent in each chapter how they relate to other people in the book). While the times that these chapters take place in varies (some following WWII, some into the present day), there is one theme that shapes this novel: how where we come from defines us as a person. Reading about each of these individuals and the paths that they have chosen in their life, it's easy to see that our hometown can shape our view of the world, our friends, even our families. It is something that defines how we see things and respond to them, and it's not something that people realize all the time. As I read each chapter, I couldn't help but marvel at Haigh's ability to keep on hitting this theme home, making you realize how different these characters are, but how their small mining town defines them as a person.
Haigh is a wonderful writer and it is showcased, yet again, in this wonderful book. If I have a complaint about this book, it's that it was too short! I could have used a few more stories following the people of Bakerton, seeing how their lives played out. If you haven't read any of Jennifer Haigh's work, I insist that you do so. She is a modern author who has a way with words, never being too overextended in how she approaches subjects, yet pulling you in and making you think about things in ways that you hadn't thought of before. While this collection might not be the place to start, she has many other wonderful novels to choose from.

** This novel is participating in a TLC Book Tour. I was provided a free copy of the book in exchange for an honest review. Please make sure to check out TLC Book Tours to see others who are hosting this book.**

1 comment:

  1. If your only complaint is that you want MORE, then I don't think of that as much of a complaint ... it is more of a compliment! :)

    Thanks for being on the tour.