Only 40 days until my novel Her Own Vietnam is released! In the meantime, I’m blogging about 30 women novelists you should know.
The quiet power of Jennifer Haigh
Jennifer Haigh is one of those writers, like Alice McDermott, whose quiet and modest narrative voice hides how beautifully she creates complex, breathing characters and situations.
Her first novel, Mrs. Kimble, told the story of three women who, over time, all make the same mistake of marrying Ken Kimble. While not my favorite of her books, it won the 2004 Pen/Hemingway Award for debut fiction.
Families and communities on the cusp of change
Baker Towers blew me away with its exploration of life in a Pennsylvania mining town called Bakerton in the years following WWII. The towers in question are not church steeples or university spires, but two gigantic piles of coal waste – which tells you all you need to know about why the daughters and sons of the Novak family try so desperately to escape or resign themselves to the town.
This year Haigh came back to Bakerton with News from Heaven, a collection of interconnected short stories that provides a ground-level glimpse of small-town America as it vanishes before the eyes of its dwindling residents. The town has been mined out and is now collapsing in on itself, and its families must learn to live in the empty skeleton of their hometown, or go elsewhere to build new lives.
The Condition portrays a family in dissolution. A daughter has Turner’s syndrome, which keeps people perpetually in a childlike state; the afflictions of the other family members are less easy to diagnose.
The moment before it all falls apart
My current favorite of Jennifer Haigh’s novels is Faith, a surprisingly fresh take on a situation we are all too familiar with: a Catholic priest has been accused of sexually abusing a young boy. The novel is narrated by the priest’s sister, who illuminates the situation from several points of view, including those of her brother and the mother of the child he is accused of violating.
The book provides an intimate view of a working class, devoutly Catholic community in New England as their faith in the Church is beginning to crumble. You can watch the book trailer here.
What happens next
Jennifer Haigh told the novelist Caroline Leavitt, “I write novels for the same reason I read them: to find out what happens next.” Read Haigh’s books for the plot – or for the breathtaking portrayals of familiar worlds in the process of disintegrating.