The Top 5 — and there are some really great authors and titles here along with a couple of new finds/surprises! Anchoring the Top 5 are a couple of reliable favorite writers who turn in some pretty impressive stuff.
Jennifer Haigh tackles a challenging, often polarizing subject, and somehow manages to interweave dozens of characters and a compelling story in to a thoroughly absorbing novel that doesn’t take any easy shortcuts.
With Heat & Light, Haigh’s ambitious novel about a town experiencing its controversial second shot at life, the Bakerton trilogy comes to a close. After years of prosperity as a mining town, Bakerton, PA falls into the quintessentially American depression that comes with progress. Then unexpectedly, fracking comes to Pennsylvania, a process by which oil and natural gas is obtained.
There’s nothing simple or black & white about the issues Jennifer raises in Heat & Light, as people struggle to get by suddenly find themselves with an opportunity to make some money by leasing their land to the fracking companies. In addition, drill workers are brought into town to do the work, thereby stimulating the economy to some extent. Yet environmentalists and other concerned townspeople feel very different, worry about the long term effects that fracking could cause. It is here that Haigh draws parallels to the Three-Mile Island incident and the ill-defined that catastrophe had on nearby residents.
Jennifer juggles multiple points-of-view deftly, infusing her skilled prose with the thoughts and beliefs of her character, whether it be the salesperson trying to lease a resident’s land, a corporate exec, a concerned environmentalist, or a lonely bar waitress. This is a dense, complicated novel that takes on issues that are hard to dismiss. Whether Bakerton has yet another renaissance in its future is unknown, but Jennifer Haigh is certainly an author on the rise.
Wow. Ann Patchett has written a family drama that perfectly captures both the absurdity and the heartbreak of domestic life. This is what Adam Haslett’s Imagine Me Gone should have been. The Cousins and the Keatings, two Califorina families forever intertwined by infidelity, and permanently shattered by it. Bert Cousins leaves his wife Teresa to raise four children on her own, to be with Beverly Keating, with two children of her own. She leaves her husband Fix and travels with Bert to live in Virginia. The six children are forced together every summer where they forge a childhood bond not based on love or admiration, but the combined disappointment in their parents. As adults, they find their combined families’ stories suddenly revealed in a way they couldn’t possibly expect and are forced to reexamine some of their drama-forged relations.
Patchett chronicles each character’s life over the span of 50 years or so in the most remarkable way; joining them at a particular moment in time and bringing the reader up to speed on their lives and loves in a way that is both natural and effective. Even one character who I thought was getting the short shrift in the book got her moment near the conclusion. Her writing is compelling and elegant, and her story, while skimming the surface of a brilliant AM Homes satire, emerges as heartfelt and real.