four-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
15-Mar-Apr-2005
user_rating: 
0

A-BakerTowersAgainst a backdrop of two 40 feet-high piles of mine waste—Bakerton, Pennsylvania’s most famous landmark—a Polish-Italian family navigates through life. When union coal miner Stanley Novak dies in 1944, his family—now headed by his Italian wife, Rose—slowly deals with personal and economic change. Their lives revolve around the church, firemen’s parades, and the mines, but over the next 30 years, as the post-war industrial boom fades, Rose’s five children take different paths. Some try to leave Bakerton for big city life. Others strive for acceptance in Bakerton, which is altered irrevocably by a terrible mine explosion.
Morrow. 334 pages. $24.95. ISBN: 0060509414

New York Times 4 of 5 Stars
"… captivating … Bakerton is utterly, entrancingly alive on the page even as it is supposed to be fading away." Janet Maslin

People 4 of 5 Stars
"Forget postmodern alienation: Reading Baker Towers is the literary equivalent of rifling through a thrift shop’s rack of 1940s house dresses. … With the fiercely observed Baker Towers, Haigh proves herself a fine storyteller, one with as much staying power as her characters." Jean Nathan

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 4 of 5 Stars
"You don’t have to be an industrial history buff to love this moving book …. The power of the writing is such that the town itself feels like a living breathing character, with its cadences of dances and picnics and small-town prejudices." Cristina Rouvalis

Seattle Times 4 of 5 Stars
"Many times throughout the book it seems that Haigh is using a camera rather than a pen, so perfectly does she create a scene for the reader." Valerie Ryan

Entertainment Weekly 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Unlike in her snazzier debut, Mrs. Kimble, Haigh treads close to Hallmark movie land with her predictably reverent portrayal of small-town virtues (the only villain is Marion, George’s rich wife, who hails from Philadelphia’s Main Line and doesn’t cook). But in clean, authoritative prose, Haigh uncannily injects new life into an era too often entombed by nostalgia." Karen Karbo

Washington Post 3.5 of 5 Stars
"In exploring these lives, Haigh also explores—and critiques—the culture’s sexual mores, the shaping influence of Catholicism and the fraught territory of female sexuality and independence. … The lasting power of this novel is in Haigh’s gift for capturing the long view and for putting Bakerton itself—its history and community—on the literary map." Nancy Reisman

Oregonian 3 of 5 Stars
"[O]ddly, even as the plot gets more complicated, it never gets more complex. … Baker Towers is a good, enjoyable novel, but readers will have to wait for the next one before getting a taste of Haigh’s own voice, whatever it may be—she is still a young writer." Sarah Cypher

Critical Summary

Haigh, author of the award-winning Mrs. Kimble ( 3 of 5 Stars May/June 2003) and the granddaughter of coal miners, grew up in a Pennsylvania mining town. She introduces an unsentimental, harsh beauty into her fictional rendering of one family’s lives in a town that "wore away like a bar of soap" as mining left an economically bereft, scarred landscape. The heart of the novel centers on Haigh’s characters as they make certain life choices within the era’s social mores. Shifting narrative perspectives pierced by short chapters about Bakerton add depth to the story. Most critics praised Haigh’s spare writing style; only The Oregonian thought it stripped the novel of energy. Overall, Baker Towers is a hymn to a vintage way of life from a promising new voice.

Also Recommended

Empire Falls | Richard Russo (2001): Award Star 2002 Pulitzer Prize. A heartbreaking look at friendship, family dynamics, and personal growth in a small Northeastern mill town.