Tag Archives: Jennifer Haigh

Literary Fiction for Summer

I have a post in the most recent issue of Readerly Magazine about some rewarding literary fiction picks for summer. If you’re looking for something substantive, you might enjoy these books from some of my favorite authors.

Six Furlough Fiction Reads

I live in DC, and I have a lot of friends who are furloughed thanks to the federal budget impasse. I am sure that some of you guys are getting restless at home with all the unexpected downtime. (Once your closets are cleaned out and you’ve gone to the gym, what are you supposed to do with your time?) While I hope for everyone’s sake that the furlough ends soon, in case it extends another week or two, here are some books to consider picking up while you’re at home. They aren’t terribly long, so you should be able to finish one or two before you go back to work, and they are engrossing enough to keep your mind off the annoying situation on Capitol Hill keeping you from work.

Six Furlough Fiction Reads

1. The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri. This one just came out, and I just started it, so I don’t have a review yet to link to. But Lahiri’s other books are wonderful (The Namesake is my favorite), and this one is also supposed to be great. Check out Swapna’s review at S.Krishna’s Books. She is an East Asian fiction expert, so she knows of which she blogs. If you haven’t read The Namesake yet, that’s another great furlough read. You could even make a whole day of it and rent the movie afterwards – here’s my take on Book vs. Movie: The Namesake.

2. Labor Day by Joyce Maynard. This isn’t Maynard’s latest novel, but I really liked it and think it’d make an excellent furlough read. It’s about a long weekend, told through the eyes of a 13 year-old boy whose mother has taken in a fugitive. Labor Day is sad and haunting but memorable. Bonus: it’s being made into a movie with Kate Winslet due out at the end of the year. Hopefully it will NOT be a furlough movie.

3. Girl in Translation by Jean Kwok. I loved this book (as have millions of others). If you missed it in 2010, it’s the story of an immigrant girl from Hong Kong who toils away in a New York City sweatshop while trying to learn English and ultimately get accepted to college.  Girl in Translation is heartbreaking and eye-opening, and would be a good book to get your mind off your own problems.

4. The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker. I read this one last fall, and it has really stayed with me. It’s about a dystopian world in which the earth’s rotation has slowed down. The Age of Miracles is one of the most creative books I’ve ever read. Walker’s depiction of the gradual changes brought on by the slowdown, and the ways in which people reacted to those changes, was both realistic and totally original. It’s a stressful read, but again, it will take your mind off the furlough.

5. Anything by Jennifer Haigh, but in particular The Condition and Baker Towers. I love everything this woman has ever written, but if you’re just starting out with Haigh, try those first. They are deeply involving and moving novels that suck you in with measured prose and perfectly paced storytelling.

6.  Finally, you can read a debut novel BY a furloughed government worker, Michael Landweber. We is his highly creative book about a fortysomething who finds that he can go back in time into the mind of his seven-year self, thus presenting the opportunity to prevent a terrible event that befell his sister. It’s a quick, exhilarating read by a promising new writer.

So while you’re passing the hours at home trying not to check your Blackberry (yes, Blackberry – this is the government), give these books a try. And then let me know what you thought.


Top 10 Favorite Audiobooks

JuneHeaderIn honor of June is Audiobook Month (JIAM), I’ve decided to share a list of my favorite audiobooks. This was hard! There are a lot of good ones out there. If you haven’t tried an audiobook before, here are a few you might want to try.

1. Three Junes by Julia Glass. What I said: “The narrator, John Keating, was nearly perfect. I loved his brogue and his Fenno was wonderful.”

2. A Land More Kind Than Home by Wiley Cash. What I said: “The three performers -Nick Sullivan, Lorna Raver, and Mark Bramhall – were absolutely perfect; I felt like I was listening to a script reading. The voice of Clem, in particular, was superb. This may be the best audio production I’ve ever listened to.”

3. Abide With Me by Elizabeth Strout. What I said: “The performer, Bernadette Dunne, had the accents down perfectly and really imbued the voices with personality and character. She brought Strout’s words to life so convincingly that at times I felt as though the characters were in the room with me. This is one of the best audiobook narrations I’ve listened to, ever.”

4. Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand by Helen Simonson. What I said: “[T]he narration by Peter Altschuler is one of the best I’ve ever experienced. Great delivery and perfect accents. Mrs. Ali was the weak link, the errant thread of the Turkish rug. But the others were great.”

5. A Good American by Alex George. What I said: “The audio is terrific. Great narrator – Gibson Frazier. In fact, I think it was the audio version that kept me interested – I am not sure I would have stuck with this book if I hadn’t been listening to it.”

6. Faith by Jennifer Haigh. What I said: “The narrator, Therese Plummer, has a perfect Boston accent, and she vividly brought Faith‘s characters, male and female, to life. The audiobook forced me to ingest this novel more slowly than if I had read it, prolonging the pleasure of experiencing the book.”

7. State of Wonder by Ann Patchett: What I said: “Hope Davis is an excellent narrator. She conveys a range of voices perfectly – from Marina’s terror brought on by drug-induced nightmares to the infallible tone of Dr. Swenson.”

8. The Unnamed by Joshua Ferris. What I said: “I highly recommend the audio. It was narrated by Ferris, and he’s a great reader. I love listening to authors read their own works – who understands the words better than they do? Who else knows exactly where the emphasis lands in a sentence, and the tone of voice a character should take when talking to someone else?”

9. The Abstinence Teacher by Tom Perrotta. What I said: “It didn’t hurt that I listened to this book on audio narrated by the sublime Campbell Scott. I wouldn’t complain if he narrated every single audiobook in the library. His deep voice, which verges on (but never reaches) flatness, was the perfect vehicle for Perrotta’s understated sarcasm and jabs. I especially enjoyed Scott’s narration of Pastor Dennis – just perfect.”

And finally, the audiobook that got me into audiobooks…

10. Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides. What I said: “This book is narrated by Kristoffer Tabori, an accomplished actor, and I give him credit for embodying so many diverse voices throughout the 21 hours of Middlesex. His narration is fluid and vibrant, his voice highly capable of conveying the range from humor to desperation. To me, the weak link was his female voices, especially that of Cal’s grandmother Desdemona, who bordered on caricature. But this is a minor complaint. There were times when I was tempted to read ahead in my print copy of Middlesex, but I developed a strong appreciation for and loyalty to Tabori as I was reading, and felt that it would be betraying him NOT to experience every word through his narration.”

What are your favorite audiobooks? Please share them!

NEWS FROM HEAVEN by Jennifer Haigh

A new book out from Jennifer Haigh is always cause for celebration here at EDIWTB. I think she has become my favorite contemporary author. Her books are rich, layered stories, usually about families, told in a distinctive gentle, quiet tone that immediately sucks me in and keeps me reading to the last page. There is always sadness and loss in her books, but they aren’t depressing. Instead, they are realistic portrayals of the ups and downs of life, and the myriad disappointments, secrets, thrills and dreams that make up our individual histories.

News From Heaven: The Bakerton Stories, which just came out two weeks ago, is a collection of stories that extend the post-war Pennsylvania mining town world Haigh created in Baker Towers (reviewed here). There are a number of characters here that overap with those in Baker Towers; in some cases, Haigh has filled out lives that were skeletal in Baker Towers, and in others she has added new chapters to lives she left at the end of her previous work.

Not all of these stories take place in Bakerton, but the claustrophobic, past-its-prime town plays a role in each of them. Everyone returns home to their once high-flying but now dying town, it seems, whether to visit, or in a casket, or in shame, or for a sense of belonging and history. Haigh’s stories span half a century, and there are many stages here – not only of her characters’ lives, but of the town’s history.

I enjoyed that most of these stories had a catch at the end – a little twist that cast the rest of the story in a new light. I found myself speeding up at the end of the chapters, eager to reach that “Eureka!” moment that Haigh had quietly dropped in. An infidelity discovered many years later, or the discovery that a revered hometown hero was keeping a secret, or simply the question of whether a younger man in an unexpected relationship had honorable intentions or not – these are the little mysteries that Haigh solves throughout the collection.

My only complaint is my typical one about short stories – they just aren’t as satisfying as novels. Each of these chapters could have been its own novel, and I was sad to see it end every time. But I won’t complain – a new Haigh book is a new Haigh book, and it’s simply a treasure.

Winner of Jennifer Haigh FAITH Audiobook

Thank you to everyone who entered to win the FAITH audiobook giveaway. Random.org picked Rachel W. as the winner. Congratulations, Rachel!

Giveaway: FAITH Audiobook

I recently reviewed the audiobook for FAITH by Jennifer Haigh. I’d like to give away my audiobook version. If you’re interested in receiving the audiobook, leave me a comment below, and be sure to use your email address in the comment. I will pick a winner at random on Friday March 30.

Good luck!

FAITH by Jennifer Haigh

One of my favorite authors that I discovered since launching this blog is Jennifer Haigh. I’ve reviewed her first three novels, Mrs. Kimble, The Condition, and Baker Towers, and I loved each one. Haigh is a master storyteller – her books are perfectly paced, her characters developed with precision and consistency. I don’t think I’ve ever read a line in a Haigh novel that didn’t ring true, that didn’t seem perfectly in place with the rest of the book.

Last May, I learned that Haigh had a new novel coming out – Faith – and I angled for a review copy, which I was generously provided by HarperCollins. The subject matter – priests and child molestation and family secrets and coverups – didn’t appeal to me off the bat. I think I feared that the book would be overly religious, or just unpleasant. I read the first chapter and then I put the book down and never picked it up again. It pained me – this Jennifer Haigh novel sitting in my room that I hadn’t clicked with – how was that possible?

I finally decided to pick Faith up again about two weeks ago, and ended up listening to it mostly on audio. I’m so glad I did. Faith is a tautly written story about a Catholic family in Boston. The oldest son, Arthur, is a priest who has been accused of molesting a 7 year-old boy. His mother, Mary, is a devout Catholic who refuses to believe the accusation. His siblings, Sheila and Mike, grapple with the accusation, with Sheila (mostly) standing by her brother and Mike, the father of three young sons himself, immediately shunning his brother while finding the need to uncover the truth himself.

Sheila narrates the novel, but with her limited knowledge of what actually happened, it unfolds like a mystery as she unravels the events leading up to the accusation and relays what she learned, and when she learned it.

What I liked about Faith is that none of these characters was predictable or one-dimensional. In the end, they were each flawed in his or her own way, but Haigh’s empathy toward each one made them sympathetic and totally realistic. As a reader, I could understand their motivations; what seemed unforgivable in one chapter made perfect sense in a later chapter. The book definitely explores faith – not just the religious type, but the faith we put in our loved ones to do the right thing, and what happens when that faith is shaken to its core. How strongly can faith withstand what appears to be controversial evidence? As Sheila says halfway through the book, “It was a thing I’d always known but until recently had forgotten: that faith is a decision. In its most basic form, it is a choice.”

There is a fair amount of religion in here, but most of it is in the context of setting the scene for what Arthur’s life as a priest was like. The book has a somewhat slow start and gets a little drowned in the Catholicism at first, which, in retrospect, is what prompted me to put the book down. But that early foundation gives way to a suspenseful story that is beautifully told in Haigh’s usual style. I think that of her four novels, this is the weakest- it gets a little repetitive at times, and there is almost too much foreshadowing for my taste (I like to be surprised). But at her weakest, Haigh is still a master, and Faith was a very good read.

I highly recommend Faith. The audio version is also very good. The narrator, Therese Plummer, has a perfect Boston accent, and she vividly brought Faith‘s characters, male and female, to life.  (She lives in NY, it turns out – I wonder if she grew up in Boston?) The audiobook forced me to ingest this novel more slowly than if I had read it, prolonging the pleasure of experiencing the book. By the end, however, I had to switch to the paper version just because I wanted to finish more quickly and find out what happened. Also, while I read the hardcover, Faith is now out in paperback.

News Flashes from EDIWTB

Some quick bookish news here on EDIWTB…

First, congratulations to Tena R., who won my audiobook of I'd Know You Anywhere, by Laura Lippman. Enjoy!

Second, some exciting news from HarperCollins. Jennifer Haigh has a new book coming out in May called Faith! I have very heard good things about it, and have requested a review copy. Can't wait! I am a huge fan of Jennifer Haigh - I loved Mrs. Kimble, The Condition, and Baker Towers.

Finally, I have another reading-related post up at TLC's new Parentables blog. Today I write about why I don't read sci-fi or fantasy anymore.

BAKER TOWERS by Jennifer Haigh

Baker I just finished another excellent book from Jennifer Haigh – Baker Towers.

Baker Towers is about the Novak family of Bakerton, PA – a mother and her five children living in a coal town in the 40s. The book looks at the heyday of company towns, ethnic neighborhoods united by a common line of work, and America’s industrial history, all through the lives of Rose Novak and her children – sons who move away, and daughters who stay close to home.

I loved Baker Towers for two reasons. The first is the subject matter – the rise and fall of this quintessentially American town, and the exploitation of its citizens, particularly the black-lung afflicted miners doing dangerous, backbreaking work, by the engine of capitalism and profit. I love American history, and I greatly enjoyed the world Haigh recreated through painstaking detail and research. I also liked how the families in this book remained entwined throughout multiple generations.

The second is Haigh’s incredible storytelling and writing. She is the master of understatement – just like in Mrs. Kimble and The Condition, the writing in Baker Towers always had me hanging on every word, wanting more. She doles out plot and character sparingly, but with precision and perfect pacing – one can never skim a Haigh novel for fear of missing something crucial.

Here is a passage I especially liked:

Ed sighed. This was another problem with Catholics: nobody ever died. Joyce often spoke of her parents looking down from heaven – sometimes with pride or amusement, but usually with disapproval or downright horror. This struck Ed as a terrible burden, this sense of being watched by all your dead relatives, by numberless saints who’d been dead a thousand years but still kept a hand in things, interceding for the sick, finding lost objects, looking out for coal miners and whoever else had a dangerous job. Ed believed in God, but he also believed in death.

Jennifer Haigh has quickly become one of my favorite authors. I really hope she has another book coming out soon! In the meantime, if you haven’t read any of her novels, I highly, highly recommend them.

Giveaway: THE CONDITION by Jennifer Haigh

Haigh I have a fun giveaway – five copies of the new paperback version of my favorite read from 2008 –The Condition by Jennifer Haigh. It comes out at the end of the month, and you can win a copy here on EDIWTB, thanks to HarperCollins.

Check out the review, and if you want to be entered to win one of the copies, leave me your name and email address in a comment below. Good luck! I will pick five names at random on Sunday, June 28.