In this collection of short stories, Haigh returns to the fictional coal mining town of Bakerton, Pennsylvania, where her first novel, Baker Towers, took place. The men, women and children in these stories come from different backgrounds and circumstances but all are dealing with the economic collapse of their small town and how it has impacted each of them differently. These stories are interconnected, but not overwhelmingly so, giving the reader a glance inside this town and the people who inhabit it from many different perspectives.
Although I’ve read and loved two of Jennifer Haigh’s novels (Faith and Mrs. Kimble), I haven’t read Baker Towers, so I was slightly concerned I would have trouble with this collection of short stories featuring characters from that novel. Also the fact that I’ve been having difficulty enjoying short story collections lately made me even more worried that I wouldn’t like this book. I really shouldn’t have been nervous, though, because as I settled down with the book, I realized I was in Haigh’s capable hands and not for one second did she do me wrong here.
News from Heaven reminded me of how much I can LOVE short story collections when they are done the right way. Haigh managed to make me care about every single character in this book, even when some of them were featured for less than twenty pages. I also liked how several of the characters would show up in multiple stories, but never in a way that felt over-the-top or took away from the overall point of the story they showed up in. I felt so much affection for these characters, they felt like real people to me, with all their flaws and neuroses and issues, yet incredibly likable at the same time.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention how lovely Haigh’s writing is. Her prose is nothing fancy, yet it’s beautiful in its simplicity and in how accurately she can depict a situation for the reader in so few pages. She quickly absorbs me with her words, sucking me into a story within paragraphs. It’s something I’ve admired about her in her previous books, but it became only too clear when I’m getting this involved within such a short period of time, as I did while reading these stories.
News from Heaven came at the perfect time for me, just when I was feeling like short stories maybe aren’t something I can enjoy anymore, Haigh proved to me that I was wrong. It takes the right author to make me fall in love with a short story collection and Haigh is just that author. I loved this book and look forward to reading the rest of Jennifer Haigh’s novels. Highly recommended.