Jennifer Haigh has done it again for me, folks. Baker Towers may have been released six years prior to Faith, but it successfully continues the fascination I have for her work. Baker Towers was everything I wanted, and so much more. This blue-collar family saga beginning in the 1940s in a coal-mining town in Pennsylvania was absolutely magnificent. It is a genuine look into the lives of young men and women who helped set another block into the foundation of America and made history.
Bakerton, Pennsylvania is made up of residents who are Swedish, Polish, and Italian immigrants, with the coal mine employing a good majority. In the Novak family, the home is traditional to the time and place. Rose and Stanley, first-generations to America, live in Polish Hill in company-owned housing. Rose, an Italian wife and mother, remains at home to take care of their five children, and her Polish husband, Stanley, works every day in the coal mine. It was never expected that he, provider of the family and gentle disciplinarian, would suffer a fatal heart attack leaving too early his wife and five children to make a place for themselves in a town and in a world that is rapidly changing.
This is the story of the five children who would be members of the Greatest Generation, living in a town whose existence thrives off the hulking mass of coal mined daily from deep in the mountain, resulting in Black Lung for miners and making widows of their wives. Each of the Novak children must find their way through life and whether it's enlisting in the military, or moving to Washington, D.C. and working for the government, or running away with no other goal but to just leave Bakerton, and who cares where you end up, their lives are ultimately filled with family, loss, love, and regrets, and it is a beautiful story with sincere contemplation on the painful choices each of them make. Combined with a glimpse into what life may have been like for those who lived during this time, ignoring the expected vintage nostalgia but instead strongly imbuing the story with remarkable authenticity, Baker Towers captures America during a time that will never be forgotten. The Novaks grow up, marry, and live their lives, and although some escape small-town life, over time they find that their paths invariably meander around and back to the very place that once made them want to flee.
This was impossible to put down, the story weaving between characters and historical events with an efficiency and skill that captured me from the very first page. Quite frankly, it swallowed me up in the time and even made me feel the aesthetics and intangibles; I could see and feel the outfits the characters wore, the jobs they took, and the cars they drove. I also could easily see this as a movie, and with all of HBO's recent endeavors into successful adaptations to the small screen, I think it would follow up quite nicely after their expert remake of Mildred Pierce this past summer, starring Kate Winslet.
Jennifer Haigh is just brilliant with her storytelling, and I decided that she is now one of my favorite authors. Her writing is expressive, moving, and thoughtful, and she has an astounding way to take tough subjects and events and turn them into the most painfully memorable moments of reading that I've had in the past year. I've enjoyed it all and can't wait to read Mrs. Kimble and The Condition next.
|What I read over the weekend|
In the interview with the author at the end of the book, it wasn't surprising to find that the small tidbits that made the story feel so authentic to the time, came from reading old magazines and noting advertisements of popular products and places. It made me a bit wistful for a hobby I have, so I picked up a few magazines from the 1940s on Saturday. I must admit, you can get lost in reading Life magazine, and over the weekend, I read a few editions from 1943. One issue included pictures from the celebrated photographer Margaret Bourke-White and her series of women in the steel mills. It was definitely a pleasure to read what the country was experiencing at the time, and I wanted to pick up Baker Towers right away and read it all over again.
While I can't predict what 2012 will hold for me with all of the amazing books I hope I'll be reading, I brazenly will propose that Baker Towers will more than likely be in my list of favorite books read this year. Without question, this is my favorite for January 2012.
I loved this book and promise that if you enjoy historical fiction, family sagas, the Greatest Generation, and especially if you love Jennifer Haigh's writing, you will more than likely love this book as well.
If I missed your review, let me know so I can link to you here.
Publisher: Harper Perennial
Release Date: 12/27/2005
About the Author
Jennifer Haigh is the author of the New York Times bestseller Baker Towers, winner of the 2006 PEN/L.L. Winship Award for outstanding book by a New England author; Mrs. Kimble, which won the PEN/Hemingway Award for debut fiction and was also a finalist for the Book Sense Book of the Year; and The Condition.
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Many thanks to TLC Book Tours. In celebration of the release of Faith in paperback, all of Jennifer Haigh's books are on tour through February 2012. To read all of the reviews at each tour stop, click here.