Baker Towers by Jennifer Haigh
Published by Harper Perennial
This novel about the fictional town of Bakerton, Pennsylvania gives the reader an intimate portrait of the Novak family. The book begins when the father dies in 1944, and follows the matriarch and her five children – the youngest just a newborn when her father dies – through three decades, up through the 1970’s.
I absolutely love a novel that is heavily character-driven, and this is definitely that kind of book. The way Haigh draws the reader in by revealing these characters’ personalities, idiosyncrasies, deepest hopes and fears, is truly exceptional. Each member of the Novak family is unique and special, and because she does such an excellent job crafting these characters, I couldn’t pick a favorite if I tried. Usually in a book like this, some characters get more “screen time” than others, but in Baker Towers everyone is pretty much treated equally – giving the reader a complete understanding of all six of them.
Although the book is very focused on the evolution of the characters, there is certainly not a lack of plot to go along with that. The town of Bakerton changes quite a bit throughout the time period in the novel, and there are a ton of things that go on within the town as well as outside of it – one character spends time in the military, another lived and worked in D.C. as a young single woman, another character gets sick with diabetes, there is much discussion about coal mining and the toll it takes on people mentally and physically, and more. The town itself almost becomes a character, the way that Haigh paints the picture of daily life for the people who live there, who grow up and fall in love and buy houses of their own all in the same small town of Bakerton, brought the town to life for me.
I have come to appreciate Jennifer Haigh as a consistently fantastic writer who can truly create memorable, complicated characters, and Baker Towers was no exception. I can’t pick a favorite of her novels, but this was one more in the list of great ones.