News from Heaven
Bakerton, Pennsylvania is a mining town whose prosperity peaked in the mid-20th century, and the decline of both the town and its inhabitants are chronicled in this collection of linked short stories presented in chronological order. Haigh begins with “Beast and Bird,” featuring Annie, a young Polish immigrant (and Bakerton native) who leaves home for a job as a serving girl with a Jewish family in New York City as World War II looms. Annie’s story sets the pattern for the rest of the book: Annie leaves, but she returns home soon after, her fortunes and her life changed and her horizons expanded. Other standouts include the duo of stories about Sandy Nowak, whose bad luck haunts him until his death, and “What Remains,” the story of Sunny Baker, the last of the town’s namesake family, whose decline from wealth and privilege into reclusiveness and hoarding is a metaphor for the decline of Bakerton and its mining industry.
Haigh’s stories have a clear sense of place, and her characters accept their lives with quiet resignation. Everyone in Bakerton has secrets to hide, whether it’s an illegitimate child, a family history of illness, or a shameful habit, and we see glimpses of these long-hidden secrets peppered throughout the book. Bakerton itself is a character, too, and living or dead, its natives are destined to return. Readers of literary fiction will enjoy this collection and will likely be interested in Haigh’s Baker Towers, which shares the same setting.