Baker Towers: A Novel

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Its ball club leads the coal company league. Called Baker Towers, they are local landmarks, clear evidence that the mines are booming. The mines were not named for Bakerton; Bakerton was named for the mines. This is an important distinction. It explains the order of things. The oldest, Georgie, serves on a mine sweeper 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 wartime job in Washington D.


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This is a feat of imagination from an extraordinary new voice in American fiction, a writer of enormous power and skill. I was expecting Baker Towers to be about the experience of working in a coal mine, since it takes place in a mining town.

But this is the forties when gender roles were more clearly defined than they are today and Jennifer Haigh opted to emphasize the experience of the women. I was left with a clear understanding of how to clean a miner's clothes, but not how to dig coal. In some ways this choice made the book unique, but it also revealed how life in a coal town was like life in countless other small towns. The story is centered on the Novak family. The miners in Bakerton are mostly Italian and Polish immigrants. Stanley Novak is Polish and his wife, Rose, is Italian, so this family has both traditions in their heritage.

Most of the story is about their children, second generation immigrants. Stanley dies early on in the book leaving Rose to raise her five children. Of those five, the two boys, George and Sandy, leave town. George goes off to fight in the war and Sandy, who misses the fighting because he is younger, goes off to find a life more exciting than the one he had in Barkerton.

Haigh tells us a little about George's life and next to nothing about Sandy's. The story is mostly about Dorothy, Joyce, and Lucy, who have very different personalities, intriguing relationships, and daily problems with which most readers can identify.

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Here's a section discussing Dorothy's limited opportunities: She [Dorothy] sewed sleeves at the Bakerton Dress Company, a low brick building at the other end of town. Each morning Rose watched the neighborhood women tramp there like a civilian army. A few even wore trousers, their hair tied back with kerchiefs. What precisely they did inside the factory, Rose understood only vaguely. The noise was deafening, Dorothy said; the floor manager made her nervous, watching her every minute.

Jennifer Haigh Reads From Her Novel Heat and Light (2016)

After seven months she still hadn't made production. Rose worried, said nothing. For an unmarried woman, the factory was the only employer in town.

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If Dorothy were fired she'd be forced to leave, take the train to New York City and find work as a housemaid or cook. Several girls from the neighborhood had done this - quit school at fourteen to become live-in maids for wealthy Jews. The Jews owned stores and drove cars; they needed Polish-speaking maids to wash their many sets of dishes. A few Bakerton girls had even settled there, found city husbands; but for Dorothy this seemed unlikely. Her Polish was sketchy, thanks to Stanley's rules. And she was terrified of men.

Baker Towers – Book Review

At church, in the street, she would not meet their eyes. I also read Faith by Jennifer Haigh. I liked that novel a bit more than this one, because it expanded into a large issue I found interesting. But this is still a five star book. It's well written and presents an honest picture of the lives of young women in small town America.

Baker Towers is one of those books you "cozy up" with on a winter day and read it all the way through. Bakerton, PA, is a coal mining town made up of various cultures such as the Italians, English, Irish, Hungarians, and the collective known as the Slavish. The men ended up in the coal mines while most of the women found their way to the local dress factory. Life for most in Bakerton is pretty routine: marriage, children, the coal mines, or the dress factory. There were very few who broke the mold. Haigh introduces us to life in Bakerton through the eyes of the Novak family.

Stanley Novak is Polish and his wife, Rose, is Italian. They live in company housing on what is known as "Polish Hill.

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The youngest and most "Italian" looking of the bunch is, Lucy. As we read how the Novak family grows and deals with hardships we see the same happen with Bakerton the town. Haigh does a remarkable job of drawing you into the Bakerton community. Baker Towers is a beautiful novel about family and community. Haigh captivates the reader with the rise and fall of both. The long suffering of Joyce's character and her sheer determination to keep her family on solid ground while her own dreams suffer is remarkable.

Sandy steals your heart in the first few pages.

Baker Towers by by Jennifer Haigh: Summary and reviews

He is the elusive rebel that you long to appear but who surfaces when you least expect it. Haigh in this well paced novel details the lives of the Bakerton residents and families in such a way that you feel as if they are your neighbors. I truly hated for Baker Towers to end.

Haigh kept the reader connected to this community with her subtle details of each family and individuals. The details never overwhelmed but those interesting tidbits kept me turning pages. Of course, in classic Haigh fashion, Bakerton is a majority Catholic community. Haigh is a solid storyteller and she writes with such compassion and gentleness. Her character development is impeccable. Jennifer Haigh is rapidly becoming one of my favorite authors and it started with her novel, Faith.


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  • A Life Decoded: My Genome: My Life (Penguin Press Science);
  • Copy provided by the publisher. In no way does this influence my review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. In this character driven story, author Jennifer Haigh paints a dramatic picture of life in a small coal mining town in the years following World War II. As the young men who survived the war come home, jobs are scarce for men and women alike.

    Working in the coal mines or the dress factory is about all that is available, and the men know where their destiny lies. But mining is hard, dangerous work, and the thought of pending tragedy is never far from people's minds.