Summary and book reviews of Baker Towers by Jennifer Haigh

Baker Towers

By Jennifer Haigh

Baker Towers
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  • Hardcover: Jan 2005,
    352 pages.
    Paperback: Dec 2005,
    368 pages.

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Book Summary

A stunning follow-up to her bestselling debut, Mrs. Kimble, Jennifer Haigh returns with Baker Towers, a compelling story of love and loss in a western Pennsylvania mining town in the years after World War II.

Bakerton is a company town built on coal, a town of church festivals and ethnic neighborhoods, hunters' breakfasts and firemen's parades. Its children are raised in company houses -- three rooms upstairs, three rooms downstairs. Its ball club leads the coal company league. The twelve Baker mines offer good union jobs, and the looming black piles of mine dirt don't bother anyone. Called Baker Towers, they are local landmarks, clear evidence that the mines are booming. Baker Towers mean good wages and meat on the table, two weeks' paid vacation and presents under the Christmas tree.

The mines were not named for Bakerton; Bakerton was named for the mines. This is an important distinction. It explains the order of things.

Born and raised on Bakerton's Polish Hill, the five Novak children come of age during wartime, a thrilling era when the world seems on the verge of changing forever. The oldest, Georgie, serves on a minesweeper in the South Pacific and glimpses life beyond Bakerton, a promising future he is determined to secure at all costs. His sister Dorothy, a fragile beauty, takes a job in Washington, D.C., and finds she is unprepared for city life. Brilliant Joyce longs to devote herself to something of consequence but instead becomes the family's keystone, bitterly aware of the opportunities she might have had elsewhere. Sandy sails through life on looks and charm, and Lucy, the volatile baby, devours the family's attention and develops a bottomless appetite for love.

Baker Towers is a family saga and a love story, a hymn to a time and place long gone, to America's industrial past and the men and women we now call the Greatest Generation. This is a feat of imagination from an extraordinary new voice in American fiction, a writer of enormous power and skill.

Chapter One

Softly the snow falls. In the blue morning light a train winds through the hills. The engine pulls a passenger car, brightly lit. Then a dozen blind coal cars, rumbling dark.

Six mornings a week the train runs westward from Altoona to Pittsburgh, a distance of a hundred miles. The route is indirect, tortuous; the earth is buckled, swollen with what lies beneath. Here and there, the lights of a town: rows of company houses, narrow and square; a main street of commercial buildings, quickly and cheaply built. Brakes screech; the train huffs to a stop. Cars are added. In the passenger compartment, a soldier on furlough clasps his duffel bag, shivers and waits. The whistle blows. Wheezing, the engine leaves the station, slowed by the extra tons of coal.

The train crosses an iron bridge, the black water of the Susquehanna. Lights cluster in the next valley. The town, Bakerton, is already awake. Coal cars thunder down the mountain. The valley is filled with sound. ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
Introduction

One of the literary world's rising stars, Jennifer Haigh earned coast-to-coast raves and the PEN/Hemingway Award for her debut, Mrs. Kimble. In her second novel, Haigh not only meets but surpasses the expectations established by her first book. Baker Towers traces the lives of three generations in a community that tenderly echoes the American experience. A family album peopled with vivid characters, this is the story of an America long past, a haunting meditation on the passage of time.

Polish immigrant Stanley Novak worked the night shift in the coal mines of western Pennsylvania, in close-knit Bakerton, a town named for its mines. When he dies suddenly, his widow, Rose, is left to raise their five children. The...
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Reviews

Media Reviews
Publishers Weekly

Haigh's prose never soars, but she writes convincingly of family and smalltown relations, as well as of the intractable frustrations of American poverty.

Kirkus Reviews

Starred review. Haigh turns a careful, loving eye on the sociology of the town of Bakerton, resting her focus most intently on the Poles and Italians who work together but live in their own neighborhoods.....Almost mythic in its ambition, somewhere between Oates and Updike country, and thoroughly satisfying.

Booklist - Kristine Huntley

Starred Review. Baker Towers is a novel possessing a rare, quiet power to evoke a time long past and the character of the people who lived then.

Library Journal - Joanna M Burkhardt

In her second novel (after Mrs. Kimble), PEN/Hemingway Award winner Haigh uses evocative prose to create a picture of a company town--and of the human condition--that is both accurate and moving.

Reader Reviews
Suzanne

A family...
The book takes place after WWII in Bakerton, Pennsylvania, a mining town. The Italian and Polish immigrant miners live within the company confines without much of a future. The Towers are two huge piles of mine waste that play a part in the ...   Read More

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