News from Heaven, by Jennifer Haigh
In her 2005 novel Baker Towers, Jennifer Haigh introduced readers to Bakerton, Pennsylvania, a town named after the coal mines that sustain it, and to the Novak family’s five children, who alternately long to leave and can’t help returning to their hometown in the years following World War II.
In News from Heaven, Haigh explores Bakerton again, this time through a book of stories that moves backward and forward in time, showing Bakerton throughout the 20th century and up to the present day. Her cast of characters expands from the Novak siblings to their neighbors, friends, enemies and offspring, all experiencing life in Bakerton at different points in its wartime heyday or its slow, inevitable decline.
Each story centers on whether a character left Bakerton, whether the character should have left and how the decision affected that person. As one character says late in the book, “Bakerton was not generally a town people came back to. You were born in Bakerton and either escaped, as Joyce’s brothers had, or failed to.”