Book Review: news from heaven: The Bakerton Stories

15819061Thank you once again to Edelweiss for advancing us the copy of Jennifer Haigh’s short story collection, news from heaven: The Bakerton Stories. 

Last year I discovered the talents of Jennifer Haigh after reading Faith, which became one of my favourite books read in 2012. After finishing, I quickly added all of Haigh’s books to my TBR pile, and thanks as well to Aaron over at Typographical Era, I won a copy of Bakers Towers! news from heaven is based in the same mining town of Bakerton, PA as Bakers Towers, which I haven’t read yet, and features the Novak family. Members of the Novak family are also sprinkled throughout this short story collection. I’m sure reading these snippets of their lives will only enrich my reading experience when I do (finally) read Bakers Towers (which will now be pushed up towards the top of the pile.) I did not feel at all as though I was missing something for not having read Bakers Towers first however, if that is something that might cause you some concern should you read this story collection first.

Once again, Jennifer Haigh has created characters so endearing, you immediately fall in to a delightful trance from the first paragraph. Not one of these stories felt too short or ended disappointingly too soon. Not at all. As they were all located in Bakerton, and profiled the townsfolk that had left  and/or returned to Bakerton, many of the stories were connected in some way, either through the characters or following certain family members through the generations. For instance we heard about Sandy and his struggles in life and the long left town of Bakerton and of the only person who truly cared for him, his sister Joyce. We again read about Joyce when she is attending Sandy’s funeral. And once again we join Joyce following the death of her long-time husband.

All these stories were heartfelt, wonderful and richly written. I think my favourites were the very first one where we meet a young woman from Bakerton sent to work in a Jewish home in New York. The Polish Jews preferred Polish speaking girls to cook their Kosher meals. The reader is only given glimpses as to the real reason for the abrupt departure, but years later we encounter the son of this young girl, returning home to quietly confront, but to also celebrate the wedding anniversary of his mother and her husband, known as “Pop” for his whole life.

Regardless if you read Bakers Towers or news from heaven: The Bakerton Stories first, you will be delighted in the rich and endearing people you encounter in Bakerton, PA. Thank you again Ms. Haigh for the treat of your wonderful, wonderful writing. A definite Literary Hoarders approved read! 4-stars!

Review: Faith by Jennifer Haigh

Please read this book. 

It is wonderful and truly a heartbreaking read. What I loved most was the very different perspective taken, as it was a perspective/outlook not usually taken on this topic.   

I’m also very shocked it did not receive “bigger play” or that it wasn’t mentioned on so many Top 2011 Lists…had I read this in 2011 it would have surely gone to the top of my list. It certainly is the best book I’ve read yet this year.

Your heart will break a great number of times. It will break wide open for Father Arthur Breen. Over and over again.

Unfortunately, Arthur Breen chose a profession now considered to be filled with shame and disgust. He followed his life-long love and became a priest, albeit at the wrong time, in the wrong place.

“Art is guilty, automatically, just because he’s a priest?”

“The Boston Archdiocese has secretly settled sexual molestation cases involving at least seventy priests.”

I simply loved the perspective, or the “side” taken in this book. And the person telling this story is simply wonderful. Sheila is Fr. Breen’s younger sister. His fiercely defensive sister. She is a wonderful story teller, taking her time and letting the story unfold quietly and tenderly. She has profound love and respect for her brother, the priest.

“You are my brother Art. Whatever you did or didn’t do, I will always love you. All that I might have said and didn’t.

Thrown in to the same lot and painted with the same brush, Fr. Breen finds himself in the centre of the scandal(s) surrounding the Catholic Church and its priests. Is he innocent? Is he guilty? Did he do those shameful things to that young boy? Sheila brings us through the scandal, back to his childhood, to the story of his family, and to the punishment he must endure.

“Meeting a woman, meeting a man. God forbid, meeting a child. I’m a priest, my dear. In the current climate, any human interaction is suspect.” (Fr. Fluery)

I also loved the insiders view of life in the seminary, the hierarchy and type of priests. Art Breen brings this to life in such a wonderful way. I loved it. 4.5 stars. It is definitely a book I will recommend over and over again.

Although, fair warning….if you have an Irish Catholic mother it may cause you to twitch in some places. 🙂

You may also wish to read: The Bishop’s Man, by Linden MacIntyre (it’s another wonderful, great story with again, a different perspective to this topic. Was also a very worth Giller Winner!)

You can watch the Book Trailer for Faith here

You can visit Jennifer Haigh’s website here

Faith is now released in paperback, so if you are the type that waits for the paperback, go get it now! Available from HarperCollins Canada