The mining town of Bakerton, Pennsylvania, is as much a character in this story as the Novaks, the family around which it is centered. Baker Towers spans the years from World War II through the Vietnam War and documents the changing fortunes of the town from when coal was big business, to striking miners, to a terrifying cave-in. The Novaks survive the untimely death of the husband and father of the family as the story opens and from then on, the men of the family retreat, leaving Bakerton and its familial responsibilities to the women. Older sister Dorothy works in Washington DC for a time before suffering a breakdown and returning to find a kind of peace as the secret girlfriend of a divorced Italian Catholic miner. Joyce, the brains of the family, joins the Air Force as a way of escape but finds it is no escape at all. She returns to take over matriarchal duties from overweight, diabetic mother Rose and to mother youngest sister Lucy. Mostly absent brothers George and Sandy are mere footnotes compared to the Novak women, but a third generation male finds his way back to Bakerton.
Haigh is an expert storyteller. Whether chronicling Dorothy’s constrained wartime life in DC or revealing Joyce’s vulnerabilities beneath her brisk, no-nonsense façade, she displays an unerring grasp of characters, time, and place. The insular world of a mining town, where every family and small business rely on that one big business, is brought to life with a poignancy that is matter-of-fact and not maudlin. Although the time span would qualify it as a saga, it moves quickly along, so quick that I was sorry to see it end.