Saturday, February 9, 2013

"News from Heaven," by Jennifer Haigh

Jennifer Haigh writes about places and people that are less commonly found in mainstream American novels. Instead of taking place in New York or San Francisco or Los Angeles, or in college towns, much of Haigh’s fiction is set in places such as Bakerton, Pennsylvania, a coal town that is past its prime and where most residents are struggling financially and otherwise. “News from Heaven” (Harper, 2013), Haigh’s new collection of interlinked short stories, tells us about the lives of various of those Bakerton residents. The author writes without condescension or pity; she simply draws us into the very realistic world she has created. The stories range back and forth through the 20th century, mostly toward the mid-to-later part of that century, and the same characters, or their relatives, turn up in more than one story; the reader has to pay attention to make the connections. The stories are beautifully written and the characters are compelling. The author describes those characters in an empathetic yet matter-of-fact manner. And perhaps partly because of the economic troubles in the U.S. today, these stories ring very true as “American” stories, steeped in American concerns, travails, values, and truths.

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