Short stories are not generally my milieu but Jennifer Haigh's new collection of interconnected stories tied together both by character and place is magnificent. Her novels, Baker Towers and Faith were wonderfully done so it perhaps shouldn't be a surprise that this sort-of sequel to Baker Towers is also a thoughtful and beautifully rendered portrait of a town and a people.
The stories span the entire life of the town from the grand heights of the mine production to the slow, economically depressed strangling perseverance of the town after the mines are played out. And the characters in each of the stories, whether they are those who remain in Bakerton or those who leave are forever imprinted with the town of their birth, connected to the place no matter how far they roam. Although this is a sequel of sorts, revisiting characters and fleshing out other minor characters from the novel Baker Towers, the collection easily stands on its own, an homage to the blue collar workers and their struggles in a town defined and then abandoned by its industry. There is a sober tone to the tales, even in the boom years, foreshadowing the long decline to follow. The families portrayed in the stories, the immigrant stock and the sadly depleted, reclusive last remaining member of the founding family, are also on a slow decline, mirroring the fate of the town.
Haigh has rendered the place and the people so poignantly and beautifully that it is both very much specifically Bakerton, Pennsylvania with its Lubickis, Novaks, and Bakers and a universal mining town peopled with its real inhabitants. The stories build on each other and characters weave in and out of the narrative in much the same way that they do in real small town life. From the opening story of a young Polish girl in New York City working as a maid for a Jewish family to the final story with an elderly Joyce Novak Hauser deciding to keep her late husband's bike and learn to ride it, each of the stories is quietly introspective and exquisitely complete in and of itself. A finely wrought, well-written jewel of a book, the stories explore the life of a town on its downward slide, the ways in which we are all connected, and how we carry our roots within us always no matter the buffeting winds of life.
For more information about Jennifer Haigh and the book visit her website or her Facebook page. Follow the rest of the blog tour or look at the amazon reviews for others' thoughts and opinions on the book.
Thanks to Trish from TLC Book Tours and the publisher for sending me a copy of this book to review.