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Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Plotless Family Saga Too Tangential, Dull For This Impatient Reader

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Although Bakerton, Pennsylvania, may not look like much, it's the kind of small town people never want to leave.  Heaven knows, coal mining isn't the most glamorous work, but it sustains many of Bakerton's residents, offering steady—if dangerous—employment.  Neighborhoods like Swedetown, Little Italy and Polish Hill provide affordable housing, close-knit communities, and a sense of belonging.  Generations of families live there, die there.  

Rose Novak, a 43-year-old widow, hails from Italy, but lives on Polish Hill because of her late husband.  Her five children have all grown up in the neighborhood, under the watchful eyes of people they've known all their lives.  Unlike so many others, the oldest Novak kids can't wait to leave home, whether it's for war, work or education.  The younger are tasked with the care of their increasingly frail mother.  As the various Novaks struggle to find their places in a changing world (the novel begins in the 1940s), they will contemplate the meanings of home, family, and duty.

My plot summary of Baker Towers by Jennifer Haigh is abnormally skimpy because the novel actually has no real plot.  It's a family saga, one in which all of the characters, young and old, experience various amounts of trouble.  Many of the scrapes they get themselves into are entertaining.  But, because the scenes don't really fit into an overall story arc, the novel comes off as episodic and tangential.  For me, it just plain got dull.  Haigh writes with skill, there's no doubt about that.  So, maybe it's me—I can be an impatient reader.  Whatever the reason, I quickly grew bored with the novel's slow build and meandering storyline.  I appreciate Haigh's ability to bring a place, a time and a people to life, I just wanted it all to play out against an overreaching plot, a good mystery or scandal—you know, something I could really sink my teeth into—and that didn't happen.  Always a bummer.   

(Readalikes:  Haigh has written a new book of short stories about Bakerton [although I haven't read it] called News From Heaven

Grade:  C+

If this were a movie, it would be rated:  PG-13 for language (no F-bombs), sexual content and depictions of illegal drug use

To the FTC, with love:  I received a finished copy of Baker Towers from the generous folks at Harper Collins.  Thank you!


  1. Hey, I reviewed a Jennifer Haigh book today, too. Mine was Mrs. Kimble, and it's pretty good, but it's kind of slow sort of story, too. Luckily I don't always mind a slow build, and I liked Haigh's writing, so I might just give this one a try anyhow!

    1. I haven't been super impressed with either of the Haigh books I've read (FAITH got a C+ from me, too), but I am interested in her new one. STORIES FROM HEAVEN is a collection of short stories about people in Bakerton -- I think that format will work better for me, since I found BAKER TOWERS so annoyingly episodic. I do enjoy Haigh's writing, her books just seem to lack plots ...

  2. Slow moving books have to be done just right and you have to be in the mood. I'm not in the mood. ;-)

    1. You know, I don't mind slow builds. In fact, in a character-driven novel I prefer them, BUT these kinds of books have to have strong plots in order for me to enjoy them. Otherwise, I'm reading along going, "What is this story even about?" That's how BAKER TOWNS was for me.

  3. I also like character-driven novels, but please give me a plot. So this one is not for me...


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