Sunday, February 3, 2013
News from Heaven by Jennifer Haigh
Jennifer Haigh returns to her town of Bakerton with this collection of ten interconnected short stories. The stories meander through the life of the town, jumping from one Bakerton family to another, overlapping here an there. Bakerton's halcyon beginnings are the backdrop for the first story, one about Jewish and Polish immigrants. In the penultimate story of this collection, the Bakerton Borough Council tries to force a descendant of the Baker Family to clean up their property, which borders land that the council hopes to lease to a correctional facility. Through a large cast of characters, whose last names become familiar by the end of the book, Haigh portrays the decline--but not the death--of a coal town. These are uniquely American stories.
Haigh is quick with a funny or poignant turn of phrase. One of my favorites came from "Favorite Son," a story about a former high school football star who has fallen on hard times. The story beings, "For a certain kind of teenager, a small town is a prison. For another kind, it is a stage." Haigh is an excellent storyteller, at once adept at ensconcing her readers in her often uncharitable fictional town and at conveying the humanity of her characters. News from Heaven is at times a little somber, but that's to be expected from a collection of stories about the economic decline of a coal mining town. I very much enjoyed this book, and look forward to reading other works by Haigh.