Magazine article The Christian Century

News from Heaven: The Bakerton Stories

Magazine article The Christian Century

News from Heaven: The Bakerton Stories

Article excerpt

News from Heaven: The Bakerton Stories

By Jennifer Haigh

Harper, 256 pp., $25.99

In her 2005 novel Baker Towers, Jennifer Haigh introduced readers to Bakerton, Pennsylvania, a town named after the coal mines that sustain it, and to the Novak family's five children, who alternately long to leave and can't help returning to their hometown in the years following World War II.

In News from Heaven, Haigh explores Bakerton again, this time through a book of stories that moves backward and forward in time, showing Bakerton throughout the 20th century and up to the present day. Her cast of characters expands from the Novak siblings to their neighbors, friends, enemies and offspring, all experiencing life in Bakerton at different points in its wartime heyday or its slow, inevitable decline.

Each story centers on whether a character left Bakerton, whether the character should have left and how the decision affected that person. As one character says late in the book, "Bakerton was not generally a town people came back to. You were born in Bakerton and either escaped, as Joyce's brothers had, or failed to."

It is interesting, then, that the book's opening story is the first and only tale in which someone leaves Bakerton against her will. Sixteen-year-old Annie Lubicki is hired as a live-in maid for a family in Manhattan. They are looking for a quiet, dependable Polish girl like their friends employ, and Annie's parents think the money will come in handy at the Bakerton farm. Everything about Annie's tenure in the city is confounding to her, especially the challenge of keeping the family's kitchen kosher, and she longs for an environment where she feels she belongs.

Longing is the word she uses, as others do in News from Heaven--not always in regard to Bakerton, but always in regard to belonging. The desire to belong to a place or a person is universal, but belonging to a place as historied, solid and unmoving as Bakerton can also feel inescapable. …

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