Thursday, May 09, 2013

Baker Towers by Jennifer Haigh

Baker Towers by Jennifer Haigh
Copyright 2005
HarperPerennial - Fiction/Historical
334 pp.

Source:  HarperCollins - sent with Haigh's most recent release, News from Heaven  (link leads to my review).

I was flipping through my new Persephone Biannually, last night, making circles and arrows and little notes after reading descriptions of the new books (and highlighting -- yes, really marking the heck out of that thing).  And, as I was reading about one of the new titles, I was reminded of Baker Towers by Jennifer Haigh, which I just finished last week.  It's a family saga to which one could apply a certain descriptor in the Persephone article about of one of their new releases: " . . . as in so many Persephone books, everything happens and nothing happens . . ."

Truly an apt description of Baker Towers, a family saga that follows three generations of the Novak family in Bakerton, Pennsylvania.  Baker Towers is about the decline of a family occurring in parallel with the small town's degenerating livelihood over the course of two decades.  We're not talking doom and gloom, here, although there are plenty of sad things that happen in Baker Towers.  Within this saga about a family and a town, good and bad things happen. But, Baker Towers is very realistic in its portrayal of life's highs and lows.  It's about life and death, war and peace, love and disillusion, sacrifices and consequences, moments of strength and total meltdowns.

Set in the 1940's and 50's, Baker Towers begins with the sudden death of Stanley Novak, a Polish-American coal miner whose family lives on the Polish Hill portion of Bakerton.  Stanley was only in his 50s and each of the family members -- the eldest of whom is serving in the Pacific -- reacts in different ways, but the consequences of his loss are enduring.

Because the book is told in the omniscient voice, Baker Towers often feels a bit like a set of interconnected short stories. Years may pass between two chapters. You begin viewing the Novaks' lives through Stanley's Italian wife Rose's eyes.  From Rose's story, the reader moves on, following the shy Dorothy to a job, peeking over George's shoulder as he returns from war and marries, wondering what studious Joyce will do when she graduates from high school, worrying about the untethered youngest son, Sandy, and beautiful baby Lucy, too young to remember her father.

When the book ends, a lot has happened but all very everyday.  I'm not sure I even understand how a story about a family can be so utterly engrossing, but you can't close Baker Towers without feeling like you know the Novaks and are certain they will continue on living beyond the end of the book.  It's very gratifying to feel that way about characters you've spent time with.

Recommended - Jennifer Haigh's writing is graceful and powerful, but ultimately it is the truth within the pages that stands out.  Life is like that, you think to yourself.  We just keep pressing on.

In other news:

We had a really big spider in our bathtub, this week.  There is a part of me that wants to be a Buddhist-Native American type, the kind of person who will not kill a spider or anything else living because we're all connected.  But, that was one BIG spider.  I foolishly sprayed him with the first thing I could find (which is pretty useless, even as a hair product) and then, given the fact that he was hiding like a dog, with half his body sticking out from under the bath plug, decided that was rather pointless and now I'd have to clean the tub because the cats drink from it, daily.  So, I turned on the hot water to rinse down the spray and went off to find a cup to catch the spider, thinking maybe I could at least flush him or put him outside if he rose to the surface.  He was swimming happily -- except when the hot water came near him and then he'd pedal fiercely to the cold side.

I came back with 2 cups: a clear glass to catch him in and a larger plastic cup to keep him from jumping  out (it would go over the top of the clear glass).  Too late.  Apparently, hot water kills spiders.  I had no idea.  

Random quotation:

"No man can wear one face to himself and another to the multitude, without finally getting bewildered as to which may be true." -- Nathaniel Hawthorne (inside my Peach Oo-La-Long Honest Tea cap)

I read this, today:

I love Henri, aka "Henry".  Some of the photos are kind of crappy, but the vast majority are great.  I giggled a lot over  Henri's philosophical meanderings.  I have a feeling he's a very happy and well-loved cat. I hope so.  The book is loads of fun and extends the joy of the Henri videos.  I had a long lens on my camera and had to stand on the chair to get a shot.  Hopefully, the neighbors weren't looking.

Speaking of which . . . (the cat book, that is)

Yesterday, I was sitting in bed alone (husband was traveling) and I kept hearing what sounded like muffled voices -- you know, like the sound of a TV in another room or neighbors talking on the deck 15 feet from your window, etc.?  I thought it must be all in my mind, but finally it bothered me so much that I got up and walked around the house.  Immediately, the voices disappeared.  But, I peeked outside to make sure there was nobody on the patio.  Boy, was I surprised to find an Henri-like cat (black and white with that same glare pictured on the cover of Henri, le Chat Noir) happily curled up on one of our green chair cushions.  I apologized to him and turned out the light.  It is likely he forgave me.  We've had conversations, before, and he's a friendly beast.

Late at night.  Off to bed.  Happy Friday!

©2013 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery  or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email for written permission to reproduce text or photos.


  1. I loved News From Heaven and have a feeling I'll love this book too.

    1. I'm sure you will. I loved News from Heaven and Baker Towers, both. I need to read more by Haigh.

  2. I stopped by your blog today.

    1. I see that. :) Thanks for commenting. I've been moving my links from Google Reader back to the blog, but apparently you weren't on either list. Excellent reminder. You're on my link list, now.

  3. I don't usually mind spiders all that much but that one was definitely BIG and CREEPY. He just had to go.


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