Excerpt from Baker Towers by Jennifer Haigh, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reading Guide |  Reviews |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

Baker Towers

by Jennifer Haigh

Baker Towers by Jennifer Haigh X
Baker Towers by Jennifer Haigh
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

  • First Published:
    Jan 2005, 352 pages
    Paperback:
    Dec 2005, 368 pages

    Genres

  • Rate this book


Buy This Book

About this Book

Print Excerpt


"These Slavish," he said, as if only a Pole would drop dead in the middle of winter and expect to be buried in a snowstorm.

The train passed, whistle blowing. The Packard crossed the tracks and climbed a steep road lined with company houses, a part of town known as Polish Hill. The road was loose and rocky; the coarse stones, called red dog, came from bony piles on the outskirts of town. Black smoke rose from the chimneys; in the backyards were outhouses, coal heaps, clotheslines stretched between posts. Here and there, miners’ overalls hung out to dry, frozen stiff in the January wind.

"These Slavish," Bernardi said again. "They live like animali." At one time, his own brothers had lived in company houses, but the family had improved itself. His nephews owned property, houses filled with modern comforts: telephones and flush toilets, gas stoves and carpeted floors.

"Papa," said Jerry, glancing at the boy; but the child seemed not to hear. He stared out the window wide-eyed, having never ridden in a car before. His name was Sandy Novak; he’d come knocking at Bernardi’s back door an hour before—breathless, his nose dripping. His mother had sent him running all the way from Polish Hill, to tell Bernardi to come and get his father.

The car climbed the slope, engine racing. Briefly the tires slid on the ice. At the top of the hill Jerry braked.

"Well?" said the old man to the boy. "Where do you live?"

"Back there," said Sandy Novak. "We passed it."

Bernardi exhaled loudly. "Cristo. Now we got to turn around."

Jerry turned the car in the middle of the road.

"Pay attention this time," Bernardi told the boy. "We don’t got all day." In fact he’d buried nobody that week, but he believed in staying available. Past opportunities—fires, rockfalls, the number five collapse—had arisen without warning. Somewhere in Bakerton a miner was dying. Only Bernardi could deliver him to God.

The Bernardis handled funerals at the five Catholic churches in town. A man named Hiram Stoner had a similar arrangement with the Protestants. When Bernardi’s black Packard was spotted, the town knew a Catholic had died; Stoner’s Ford meant a dead Episcopalian, Lutheran or Methodist. For years Bernardi had transported his customers in a wagon pulled by two horses. During the flu of ’18 he’d moved three bodies at a time. Recently, conceding to modernity, he’d bought the Packard; now, when a Catholic died, a Bernardi nephew would be called upon to drive. Jerry was the last remaining; the others had been sent to England and northern Africa. The old man worried that Jerry, too, would be drafted. Then he’d have no one left to drive the hearse.

"There it is," the boy said, pointing. "That’s my house."

Jerry slowed. The house was mean and narrow like the others, but a front porch had been added, painted green and white. One window, draped with lace curtains, held a porcelain statue of the Madonna. In the other window hung a single blue star.

"Who’s the soldier?" said Jerry.

"My brother Georgie," said Sandy, then added what his father always said. "He’s in the South Pacific."

They climbed the porch stairs, stamping snow from their shoes. A woman opened the door. Her dark hair was loose, her mouth full. A baby slept against her shoulder. She was beautiful, but not young—at least forty, if Bernardi had to guess. He was like a timberman who could guess the age of a tree before counting the rings inside. He had rarely been wrong.

She let them inside. Her eyelids were puffy, her eyes rimmed with red. She inhaled sharply, a moist, slurry sound.

Bernardi offered his hand. He’d expected the usual Slavish type: pale and round-faced, a long braid wrapped around her head so that she resembled a fancy pastry. This one was dark-eyed, olive-skinned. He glanced down at her bare feet. Italian, he realized with a shock. His mother and sisters had never worn shoes in the house.

The foregoing is excerpted from Baker Towers by Jennifer Haigh. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced without written permission from HarperCollins Publishers, 10 East 53rd Street , New York , NY 10022

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $12 for 3 months or $39 for a year.
  • More about membership!

Join & Save $10!

Discover books that entertain, engage & enlighten. One-year membership: $29

Find out more


Today's Top Picks

  • Book Jacket: The Book Collectors
    The Book Collectors
    by Delphine Minoui
    About halfway through The Book Collectors, I was disappointed. I came into the book with a ...
  • Book Jacket: Blue Sky Kingdom
    Blue Sky Kingdom
    by Bruce Kirkby
    Who hasn't dreamed of escaping all of the trappings of today's modern life and finding a secluded, ...
  • Book Jacket: My Heart Underwater
    My Heart Underwater
    by Laurel Fantauzzo
    Corazon — Cory — Tagubio is a Filipina-American teenager living with her family in ...
  • Book Jacket: Black Sun
    Black Sun
    by Rebecca Roanhorse
    Reading the first book in a series is always difficult because readers know that, by definition, it ...

Readers Recommend

  • Book Jacket

    A Girl is A Body of Water
    by Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi

    A powerful portrait of a young Ugandan girl and her family.
    Reader Reviews

Book Club Discussion
Book Jacket
The Exiles
by Christina Baker Kline

The author of Orphan Train returns with an ambitious, emotionally resonant historical novel.

About the book
Join the discussion!
Win This Book!
Win Jack

Return to Gilead with Jack, the instant New York Times bestseller

Enter to win Marilynne Robinson's latest novel in her classic series.

Enter

Wordplay

Solve this clue:

I G I O Ear A O T O

and be entered to win..

Books that     
entertain,
     engage

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends the best in contemporary fiction and nonfiction—books that not only engage and entertain but also deepen our understanding of ourselves and the world around us.