Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Baker Towers

Author: Jennifer Haigh
ISBN: 978-0060509415
Publisher: William Morrow
Tour: TLC Book Tours
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About the Book:
Stanley Novak is a first-generation Polish immigrant. Seeking a better life, he settles in Bakerton and finds work in the booming local mine. He meets and marries Rose, a shy, beautiful Italian girl. They move to a mine-owned house in an area of town known as Polish Hill, teeming with immigrants from all over Europe, all chasing the American Dream. Five children follow for the Novaks. The Novak children belong to what will someday be known as the Greatest Generation, but for now, they are just trying to find their identities in a vastly changing world. The five children could not be more different. The eldest, George, avoids signing up but is drafted to the Pacific when America joins the war. He comes home determined to leave Bakerton behind, but finds it much more difficult the second time around. Dorothy is a fragile and naive girl, who finds it hard to cope with her desk job in Washington. Joyce, fiercely intelligent, must hold the family together and remains bitterly aware of the life that she could have had. Sandy, the youngest boy, swans through life with his movie-star looks, never taking responsibility for his actions. And Lucy, the youngest, must find her own path in the shadow of her formidable siblings. Haigh gives us a beautiful snapshot of a small town -- of company houses and union squabbles; the boom and bust of the post-war years; the immigrant neighbourhoods of Swedetown, Little Italy and Polish Hill; the miners, undertakers, soldiers, firemen and housewives who populate the town and bring it to life.

Plot: The story chronicles the lives of the 5 Novak children as they grow up in Bakerton, a small mining town in Pennsylvania.  The story begins during WWII and continues in the decades that follow.  The plot is harrowing and insightful.  I felt the author did a beautiful job of displaying life during this time period for a migrant family living in a coal mining town. The story line is not of an upbeat nature.  To be honest, the novel is quite gloomy and slightly depressing, though it fits what it is, reminding us all that life doesn't always turn out to be what we expect or want.

Pace: While intriguing and honest, the story has a thoughtful pace.  It's slower due to the gloomy aspects of the book yet it keeps your interest in the outcome of the characters fate.

Writing Style:  Jennifer Haigh writes this novel in a narrating voice. When I first started the novel, I couldn't help but think "Picture it.  Sicily. 19..."  The catch phrase of Sophia Patrillo of The Golden Girls.  The story sets itself up for narration right off the bat.  Soon you, as the the reader, are soaked in a story involving this family of children and immersed in their trials and the outcome of their lives as it unfolds.  Haigh remains faithful to her unique style that sparks conversations and ignites thought regarding the sensitive and sometimes harsh matters of life.

Overall - Baker Towers is a haunting and vivid story that comes alive through Jen's writing.  It is not a fairy tale by any means.  I can't really say I found anything funny or happy about this novel, but again that's not surprising considering the story.  I genuinely appreciate Ms. Haigh's writing.  This is the second book I have read by her and I have both The Condition and Mrs.Kimble in my reading lineup.  I anticipate these two and look forward to more by Jennifer Haigh.  If you haven't read Faith, I recommend it as well.

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