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

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Baker Towers

by Jennifer Haigh

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

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Rose had resisted—quietly at first, then loudly, without restraint. Georgie was a serious young man, a musician. He’d taught himself the clarinet and saxophone; since the age of five he’d played the violin. Besides that, he was delicate: as a child he’d had pneumonia, and later diphtheria. Both times he had nearly died. If America wanted his precious life, then America would have to call him. Rose would not let Stanley hand him over on a plate.

For a time she had her way. Georgie graduated high school and went to work at Baker One. He blew his saxophone in a dance band that played the VFW dances Friday nights. When the draft notice came, Stanley had seemed almost glad. Rose called him a brute, a braggart—willing to risk Georgie’s life so he’d have something to boast about in the beer gardens. At the time she believed it. The next morning she found him gathering eggs in the henhouse, weeping like a baby.

He was strict with the children, with Georgie especially. Only English was to be spoken at home; when Rose lapsed into Italian with her mother or sisters, Stanley glared at her with silent scorn. Yet late at night, once the children were in bed, he tuned the radio to a Polish station from Pittsburgh and listened until it was time for work.

She left the warmth of the church and walked home through a stiff wind, wisps of snow swirling around her ankles, hovering above the sidewalk like steam or spirits. The sky had begun to lighten; the frozen ground was still bare. Good for the miners, loading the night’s coal onto railroad cars; good for the children, who walked two miles each way to school.

At Polish Hill the sidewalk ended. She continued along the rocky path, hugging her coat around her, a fierce wind at her back. Ahead, a group of miners trudged up the hill with their empty dinner buckets, cupping cigarettes in their grimy hands. They joked loudly in Polish and English: deep voices, phlegmy laughter. Like Stanley they’d worked Hoot Owl, midnight to eight; since the war had started the mines never stopped. Rose picked out her neighbor Andy Yurkovich, the bad-tempered father of two-year-old twins. He had a young Hungarian wife; by noon her nerves would be shattered, trying to keep the babies quiet so Andy could sleep.

Rose climbed the stairs to the porch. The house was warm inside; someone had stoked the furnace. She left her shoes at the door. Dorothy sat at the kitchen table chewing her fingernails. The baby sat calmly in her lap, mouthing a saltine cracker.

"Sorry I’m late. That Polish priest, he need an alarm clock." Rose reached for the baby. "Did she behave herself?" she asked in Italian.

"She was an angel," Dorothy answered in English. "Daddy’s home," she added in a whisper. She reached for her boots and glanced at the mirror that hung beside the door. Her hair looked flattened on one side. An odd rash had appeared on her cheek. She would be nineteen that spring.

"Put on some lipstick," Rose suggested.

"No time," Dorothy called over her shoulder.

In the distance the factory whistle blew. Through the kitchen window Rose watched Dorothy hurry down the hill, the hem of her dress peeking beneath her coat. People said they looked alike, and their features—the dark eyes, the full mouth—were indeed similar. In her high school graduation photo, taken the previous spring, Dorothy was as stunning as any movie actress. In actual life she was less attractive. Tall and round-shouldered, with no bosom to speak of; no matter how Rose hemmed them, Dorothy’s skirts dipped an inch lower on the left side. Help existed: corsets, cosmetics, the innocent adornments most girls discovered at puberty and used faithfully until death. Dorothy either didn’t know about them or didn’t care. She still hadn’t mastered the art of setting her hair, a skill other girls seemed to possess intuitively.

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

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