News from Heaven by Jennifer Haigh

March 20, 2013 at 5:02 PM | Posted in Books | Leave a comment
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haigh 1I have raved about the writer Jennifer Haigh before and I am here to rave again. Her book of short stories is out, News from Heaven, and I suggest one of two paths to reading it. The first: drop everything and get this book of 10 touching, elemental stories. The second path is to first read Haigh’s second novel, Baker Towers, one of the great novels of modern times, if you trust my taste.

Bakerton is a fictional but super-real mining town in western Pennsylvania. It began as a company town and fell from there. Both Baker Towers and News from Heaven take place there and while there is something very specific about mining towns (ah, memories of D.H. Lawrence), these people are so so human we could touch them.

The NY Times Review by Janet Maslin, linked under the title above, does a great job of telling you about the stories but there is one thing I would like to add. The stories average 25 pages each and that length and the pacing of her writing is perfect. If they were, say, 10 pages long, we would be frustrated but at 25 we can soak in the flavor of the town and the people like the spinster nurse who sells her house when she meets a much younger house painter who had done some time and moves into a trailer with him, making love for the first time. But through Haigh’s subtle art we learn that the nurse isn’t hopeless and that the fellow may be decent after all. When, at the end of the story, they are sharing a pizza and a pitcher of beer, you feel that, OK,  maybe, just maybe, things just might work out.

News from Heaven is a book book.

“Faith” by Jennifer Haigh

August 27, 2011 at 1:22 PM | Posted in Books | Leave a comment
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Do you know the author Jennifer Haigh? She has written four novels and her latest, Faith, is a masterpiece. It is a story of an Irish-Catholic Priest-soaked family set mostly in the last decade, a period of the latest greatest embarrassment to the Catholic hierarchy, that of the molestation epidemic. But for all that, Faith is an incredibly touching story of Father Art, his sister Sheila who tells the story, his brother Mike and a mother trying  to channel Rose Kennedy with her blinders full on but without Hyannis as a backdrop.

I found Haigh by chance just after her first novel, Mrs. Kimble, came out. As I recall, I liked the book jacket at first and then the book. She tells stories about families and her novels are ‘novel novels’ — if you know what I mean. Reading Faith I followed my time-honored method of reading wonderful novels:

  • I begin reading and after a few pages I know that I’ll like the story; I’m hooked and I put the book aside for a day or so.
  • I take up the novel and read as if starving for it.
  • Just before the end,  I put it aside for a few hours or even a day because I don’t want it to be over.

As I began reading Faith I thought of Father Martin, my Father’s uncle who died before I was born and my two maiden aunts and my step-grandmother from Ireland and I thought of growing up as an Altar Boy and the Nuns from Ireland and drinking and though I don’t feel Boston at all, when you grow up so drenched in a religion as I did, there is an irresistible pull to this very sad yet striking story that gets you out of Beantown, past geography and makes you want to make sure that you don’t miss living, as Father Art almost missed it.

It is a story, most of all, of loneliness.

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