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News From Heaven by Jennifer Haigh

News From Heaven by Jennifer Haigh is a collection of interconnected short stories about Bakerton, Pa., and while the characters in these stories all have roots in that former coal-mining town, the town itself is a character — matter of fact, it is the character — that holds these stories together.  Haigh has created a heartbreaking and hopeful story about the death and rebirth of a town and its people.  As the founding members, the Bakers, brought glory and industry to the town that ensured its prosperity, they also have a hand in its decline.

From WWI to the 1970s and 1990s, Haigh chronicles the rise and fall of a town tied closely to its founding family and the coal beneath its hills.  By the end, readers will be as connected to Bakerton as they are to their own hometowns and families.  From the coal hacked out of the mines to the black lungs carried by its resident miners, there is a deep sense of place and the people who inhabit it are as flawed and as memorable as the school teachers, mechanics, small business owners, and others of memory.

“The town lay before them in a deep valley, settled there like sediment:  the main street with its one traffic light, the rows of company houses, narrow and square — some brick-cased now, or disguised with porches and aluminum siding, but at this distance you could see how alike they all were.”  (page 166, “The Bottom of Things”)

Beautifully, each story builds upon the foundation of the last from the high flying days of the coal boom and the nepotism it wrought in the town to the ultimate crashing down of the town around the ears of the residents who relied too heavily on the Bakers to carry them through.  There are glimpses of how war can build up a town, while at the same time tear down its people, and there are other moments where the destruction of war is keenly felt at home when a soldier returns.  Haigh’s collection runs the emotional gamut, but the most striking passage comes in the final story, “Desiderata,” referencing the prose poem by Max Ehrmann.  She infuses the final story with a deep sadness of grief and the devastation of a secret revealed, but returns to the hopeful tone of rebirth and beginning anew amidst this unwanted baggage and knowledge.

In many ways, this collection depicts a slice of American history, with particular attention paid to how immigrant groups interacted with one another and to each other even in a new country.  Even as war is far away, many of the prejudices bred abroad continued in their new homes, and these interactions continued to reflect in future generations.  News From Heaven by Jennifer Haigh has a blasé title, but given the final moments of the collection and the reference to the prose poem, it is reflective of Haigh’s focus on faith.

About the Author:

Jennifer Haigh is the author of the New York Times bestseller Baker Towers, winner of the 2006 PEN/L. L. Winship Award for outstanding book by a New England author; Mrs. Kimble, which won the PEN/Hemingway Award for debut fiction and was a finalist for the Book Sense Book of the Year; and The Condition.

Her fiction has appeared in Granta, Ploughshares, Good Housekeeping, and elsewhere. She lives in the Boston area.

Find out more about Jennifer at her Website and connect with her on Facebook.  Also check out her Book Club Girl discussion.

This is my 7th book for the 2013 New Authors Challenge.

  • I’m not a fan of short stories all the time but I am a fan of Haigh’s. This one is coming up on my list of books to read and I can’t wait. I’ve heard a lot of good things about it.
    Darlene´s last blog post ..Temple of a Thousand Faces by John Shors

  • I’ve read nothing but great things about this collection from Jennifer. I will be buying it for sure!!

    • I loved this collection, and I’ve never read any of her books before this.

  • Your review gave me goosebumps! I’m so glad you were on the tour!

    • Thanks, Trish. I really enjoyed this collection.

  • Truly, I can’t rave enough about this author!!

    • This is my first experience with her work, and I really enjoyed this one.

  • Beth Hoffman

    Terrific review, Serena! I enjoy short stories and have this book on my list.

  • You know I’m picky about short stories, but this sounds like an excellent collection. I have Baker Towers but haven’t read it yet; I’ll probably read that one first.
    Anna (Diary of an Eccentric)´s last blog post ..Review: Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice (Marvel Illustrated) by Nancy Butler and Hugo Petrus

    • If you want to check out the short stories, you can borrow my copy.

  • I’ve read one of her books and liked it very much. Making a note of this short story collection.
    Mystica´s last blog post ..A FEW GREEN LEAVES by BARBARA PYM

    • I hope you grab a copy and check it out.

  • I simply adored this short story collection – it is truly amazing as is your review.

    • Thanks, Kathy. I’m glad you loved it as well.

  • I’ve read Baker Towns. Loved it. So glad to see she has written short stories. Thank you for the excerpt. Love your blog.
    Hattie Norman´s last blog post ..LEROY by Amii Baraka (leRoi Jones)

    • Thanks for checking out the review. I haven’t read Baker Towers, but its on the list now.