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The 52 Book Club's Reading Challenge 2022

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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!

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