Baker Towers by Jennifer Haigh

This book has the distinction of having been the first book on my “to read” list on Goodreads since April 5, 2011. I’ve seen its cover taunting me at the top of that (currently 375 items long) list for years and just kept ignoring it. I’d read other books by Haigh and really liked them, so not sure what held me back. Well. This was WONDERFUL. I started it yesterday, got sucked in, and finished it this morning. She has a way of writing that I really enjoy, but is hard for me to describe. I care about the characters, and yet the writing is very matter of fact, laying out what happens to everyone over the span of many many years. There were so many characters to get to know, each with their own story. And of course the whole setting and time were just ripe for making everyone’s lives sound interesting-WWII to the 1960s in a coal mining town in Pennsylvania. Immigrants living in different sections of town, strong cultural and religious traditions, little Company houses with no  phones (and fairly recent indoor plumbing), men dying at young ages from the back breaking lung blackening work of the coal mines. The focus is on one family and the five children in it. I loved everything about this.

Faith by Jennifer Haigh

[Caveat: I’m trying to make good on my New Year’s Resolution and get caught up to speed on this blog. That means I’m writing about books I read months ago, my memory might be spotty, and I’m just going to jot down a few sentences.]

I debated about including this on my top books of the year because I really liked it a lot.  I think Haigh is an amazing writer-she pulls you in and just creates these stories with people who are flawed and make mistakes and she is just very compelling.  I read this shortly after reading Maine and so the two are somewhat intertwined in my mind-both deal with religious, Catholic families, alcoholics, faith, and family secrets. (or, as I kept saying, “angry drunks with secrets.”)  In this particular story I found it continuously heartbreaking-a good man, a devout priest, has been accused of inappropriate conduct with a young boy.  The boy is someone he has been close to, in fact a good influence in his life. The priest is not given the benefit of the doubt by really anyone, and yet the accuser is so patently manipulative.  Haigh provides some varying points of view (I think? looking back here…) and she does a good job of showing you how people’s faith in his innocence shaken.

It’s not an especially uplifting story, but then I don’t think of any of hers are.  It’s a story that stays with you and, like I said, I truly found it heartbreaking and was amazed by the power of hurtful secrets and behaviors.

The Condition by Jennifer Haigh

conditionHumongous thanks to Melissa for passing this along to me. I loved it.  It’s been a while since I’ve read a book of this type/style and I had forgotten how much I like it.  The story/writing reminded me very much of Anne Tyler, one of my favorite writers.

The story is about one family– Paulette and Frank, and their three children Bill, Scott, and Gwen—and the relationships they have with each other, how they misunderstand each other, and the family ties they have.  What I especially loved about this story was the structure of it.  The first chapter, actually I think it’s the prologue, is set in the 70s on the Cape at the family’s summer house.  Continue reading