Baker Towers by Jennifer Haigh

baker-towersBakerton is a company town built on coal; the twelve Baker mines offer good union jobs, and the looming black piles of mine dirt don’t bother anyone. Called Baker Towers as they are local landmarks; clear evidence that the mines are booming. Baker Towers mean good wages and meat on the table, two weeks’ paid vacation and presents under the Christmas tree.

Born and raised on Bakerton’s Polish Hill, the five Novak children come of age during wartime, a thrilling ear when the world seems on the verge of changing forever. The oldest, Georgie, serves on a minesweeper in the South Pacific and glimpses life beyond Bakerton, a promising feautre he is determined to secure at all costs. His sister Dorothy, a fragile beauty, takes a job in Washington, D. C., and finds she is unprepared for city life. Brilliant Joyce longs to devote herself to something of consequence but instead becomes the family’s keystone, bitterly aware of the opportunities she might have had elsewhere. Sandy sails through life on looks and charm, and Lucy, the volatile baby, devours the family’s attention and develops a bottomless appetite for love.

Despite not being all that impressed with Haigh’s third novel, The Condition, I wanted to give her second novel a chance. After all, the plot line intrigued me, and I did have good things to say about her writing style. Now, I wish I could take them all back.

A friend asked me what I thought of Baker Towers towards the beginning of the school day this morning — I was only thirty-eight pages in — but I immediately replied that it was very staccato. For those you who don’t “speak music,” as my band director would say, the writing was very choppy and disjointed, as was the plot.

Of course, I find myself asking “Plot? What plot?” because, besides the overarching story line of a coal-mining, company-owned town that dries up when the coal does, there isn’t one. Instead of a cohesive story line, Haigh chose to overwhelm the reader with so many characters — characters she could not do justice for, characters who lacked their own personalities and depth. The only two I did care about, Dorothy and Joyce, had their lives life in balance or were thrown with a man and quickly forgotten. The reader is given snippets of each character’s life with little explanation as to why they came back to Bakerton or left in the first place and then the book ends.

And rather than actually give a real sense of life to the town and to the mines, Haigh misses the opportunity to explore life in Bakerton as America changes from war to peace, women at home to women in the workforce, and coal-burning for energy to gas and electric in favor of placing a lot of emphasis on the characters’ sex lives.

Book Mentioned:

  • Haigh, Jennifer. Baker Towers. New York: Harper Perennial, 2006. Originally published 2005. Print. 334 pgs. ISBN: 0060509422. Source: Library.
Book Cover © Harper Perennial. Retrieved: March 5, 2009.
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