Sunday, January 27, 2013
News from Heaven by Jennifer Haigh
I'm going to default to the publisher's description to begin this review, since I think it's very well done.
From the cover:
Set in Bakerton, Pennsylvania -- the company town that was the setting of Jennifer Haigh's award-winning bestseller Baker Towers -- News from Heaven explores how our roots, the families and places in which we are raised, shape the people we eventually become.
Through a series of connected stories, Haigh brilliantly portrays this close-knit community, from its heyday during two world wars to its decline in the final years of the twentieth century. Exploring themes of restlessness, regret, redemption and acceptance, she depicts men and women of different generations shaped by dreams and haunted by disappointments. 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-lost brother makes an unexpected and tragic homecoming. A woman must come to terms with heartbreaking loss when she discovers a shocking family secret.
I'm not going to copy the entire cover blurb because I think that gives you enough of an idea what News from Heaven is about. I haven't read a lot of collections in which the stories are connected in some manner, so I can't really generalize about them but I really enjoyed News from Heaven. As in any story collection, I had personal favorites. Although the connection can often be very thin between the stories, I was pleased that one of my favorites -- set in WWII -- was revisited in one of the later stories through a relative of one of the characters.
The thing I most loved about News from Heaven was the fact that they were so realistic. While I was reading, I felt that this could happen to anyone sensation. The emotions, the settings, the characters . . . they all have the ring of truth. In fact, they often reminded me of some of my own experiences to the point that I felt like running for a pen and paper to write down the memories that Haigh's stories jogged.
I've got a copy of Baker Towers and hope to read it very soon. I will definitely also re-read News from Heaven, at some point. I often revisit favorite short stories and there were plenty that I thought were worth returning to.
4/5 - Recommended. A nice collection with believable and realistic characterization and settings, some more enjoyable than others.
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