Posts Tagged Jennifer Haigh

STEELE PICKS: Best Books of 2016

quite delayed on posting my year-end list.

here are the best books of 2016 [not ranked]:

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An Abbreviated Life: a memoir by Ariel Leve [Harper]
–gorgeous writing, sad story. resilience. My parents got divorced when I was around the same age and I only have a few isolated or vague memories.

alligator-candy

Alligator Candy: a memoir by David Kushner [Simon & Schuster]
David Kushner’s older brother Jon disappeared one day on a bike ride to get candy and two men savagely murdered him, sodomized him postmortem and mutilated his body. It’s a horrific event to happen in one’s family. Only four at the time, Kushner didn’t quite understand the full impact. He missed his brother but didn’t know the complete details. Now a journalist, he decided to revisit the case and provide a voice for and memory of his brother. Through compelling prose and devastating emotion this memoir potently addresses murder and its effect on the family. full review

future-sex

Future Sex by Emily Witt [Farrar, Straus and Giroux]
Future Sex reads as a fascinating sociological study on sexuality that delves into orgasmic mediation, internet porn, webcams, Burning Man and polyamory. Witt combines personal experience with research and reporting in a darkly amusing, honest and real manner. Witt investigates sites I’d barely heard of: Chaturbate; Porn Hub; Kink.com; Fetlife. She attends an orgasmic mediation workshop [looked up on YouTube and there are tutorials] and travels to Burning Man. She interviews tons of people such as polyamorous Google employees, the founder of OKCupid, a 19-year-old webcammer as well as a woman who creates female-centered porn. Witt doesn’t make a spectacle of what may be absurd. Instead she writes analytically, astutely with brevity and a sharp edge. full review.

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Girl Through Glass by Sari Wilson [Harper]
A former ballet dancer, Wilson provides intimate details about New York’s ballet scene. While this isn’t solely a novel about the ballet world, girls straddling the line between youth and adulthood provides fascinating reading. The novel flawlessly describes the razor sharp focus on becoming the best, earning a particular status and securing one’s place in this strange world overflowing with beauty and sacrifice. And what happens to all those girls who aren’t’ quite the best? Those girls who do not make the right school or earn a place in a prestigious ballet company? This absorbing, riveting novel does what a wonderful novel can do: it completely transports readers to a specific time and place in such an effective and specific manner that one thinks about the subject and characters well past finishing the last page. full review.

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Heat & Light by Jennifer Haigh [Ecco]
Returning to Bakerton, Pennsylvania—the setting for the 2005 best-selling novel Baker Towers—author Jennifer Haigh again focuses on an energy source and its effects on a small community. full review.

here i am

Here I Am by Jonathan Safran Foer [Farrar, Straus and Giroux]
–phenomenal writing. for some reason I waited to read this (maybe because it’s quite long and dense). immediately engulfed in the story of a family coming apart. numerous other elements including being Jewish and Middle East politics. amazing.

lazaretto

Lazaretto by Diane McKinney-Whetstone
Set in post-Civil War Philadelphia, this historical fiction novel beautifully explores race, class, gender and family. full review.

llucy pear

Leaving Lucy Pear by Anna Solomon [Viking]
An engrossing and gorgeous work of historical fiction, this novel effectively weaves together issues of class, feminism, wealth, power, mental illness and motherhood. The setting: Cape Ann, Massachusetts, a working class fishing community as well as a lovely coastal summer getaway for Boston’s wealthy. In 1917, the unwed teenage daughter of a wealthy family abandons her newborn daughter under a pear tree outside her uncle’s estate on Cape Ann. A decade later, Beatrice finds herself unexpectedly reunited with the Irish woman raising the determined and spunky Lucy Pear. full review.

modern girls

Modern Girls by Jennifer Brown [NAL]
–The novel focuses on a strong mother-daughter relationship. Brown incorporates historical details which strengthen the plot, setting and characters. For instance in a meeting Rose attends, she urges her comrades to write letters to their Senators to repeal 1924’s Johnson-Reed Act which instituted quotas on the number of Jews that could enter America. While Rose and Dottie don’t share every detail with each other they’ve developed a solid bond and care deeply about each others well-being. Mother and daughter respect and support each other. Despite the decade, the restrictions against women and standard domestic expectations, these women remain strong feminist characters. A sequel set 10 or 15 years on would be greatly welcomed. These characters must be followed up on. Clear your schedule and brew a pot of tea. Once you start this wonderful, detailed novel you’ll want to read straight through. full review.

the other woman

The Other Woman by Therese Bohman [Other Press]
This novel bursts with intellectual prowess. It’s witty, provocative and thoughtful about money, class, what it is to have less and desire more, to be educated and smart but not particularly suited to anything. Swedish author Therese Bohman examines societal expectations of what makes a complete life: a good job; a happy coupling; a nice place. All the things by which we define ourselves but realize the innate superficiality of it all. If we focus on the having and not the feeling and the experiencing then we lack integrity, depth and strength of character. full review.

pull-me

Pull Me Under by Kelly Luce [Farrar, Straus and Giroux]
Pull Me Under is an exquisitely dark psychological thriller which examines identity and place through its compelling protagonist and story. read my complete review.

rare objects

Rare Objects by Kathleen Tessaro [Harper]
–lovely historical fiction set in Boston. Author Kathleen Tessaro adeptly describes both the immigrant North End and wealthy mansions with vivid detail. Superb writing and research merge to tell this wonderful story. a page-turner about class, friendship and the things and people we value most. full review.

sun in your eyes

The Sun in Your Eyes by Deborah Shapiro [William Morrow]
–There’s that saying that you can’t tell a book by its cover. Book covers visually connect a potential reader to the book. The cover image makes you wonder what the book will be about. A beautiful, cool book cover sets expectations. On the cover of The Sun in Your Eyes is a photo of two women with a definite 70s rocker chic. What’s going on between these two women? It’s a 1974 photograph by William Eggleston and drew me right in. I’d also just seen the photo in the documentary Big Star: Nothing Can Hurt Me which features this photo. The blonde was Alex Chilton’s girlfriend. full review.

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The Vegetarian by Kang Han [Hogarth]
–I’ve been a vegan for about eight years and am not too thin. Due to psychiatric meds I need to lose weight. I stopped eating red meat at 12!/everything but fish at 18 then went vegetarian to vegan. So the being deprived and malnourished because she’s not eating meat is bothering me a tad. Otherwise, the writing is great. It’s dark and suspenseful. Entirely original and engrossing.

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We Love You, Charlie Freeman by Kaitlyn Greenidge [Algonquin]
–a thoughtful and provocative novel which effectively and creatively winds together numerous subjects from coming-of-age, first love, adolescence, sisterhood, race, anthropology, history and family dynamics. In 1990, a family relocates from Dorchester, Massachusetts to the Berkshires to teach sign language to a chimpanzee at the Toneybee Institute for Great Ape Research. full review.

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Summer Book Readings in the Boston-area

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Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan, Sarong Party Girls

Brookline Booksmith

Wednesday, July 27 at 7pm

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Peter Kramer, Ordinarily Well: The Case for Antidepressants

Harvard Book Store

Tuesday, July 26 at 7pm

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Deborah Levy, Hot Milk

Harvard Book Store

Thursday, July 28 at 7pm

Crossing Swords full cover

Cindy Peyser Safronoff, Crossing Swords: Mary Baker Eddy vs. Victoria Claffin Woodhull and the Battle for the Soul of Marriage

Harvard Book Store

Tuesday, August 2 at 7pm

llucy pear

Anna Solomon, Leaving Lucy Pear

Harvard Book Store

Wednesday, August 3 at 7pm

nordic theory

Anu Partanen, The Nordic Theory of Everything: In Search of a Better Life

Harvard Book Store

Thursday, August 4 at 7pm

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Annie DeWitt, White Nights in Split Town City: a novel

Harvard Book Store

Tuesday, August 9 at 7pm

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Jennifer Haigh, HEAT & LIGHT

Newtonville Books

Tuesday, August 16, 7PM

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Amy Gottlieb, The Beautiful Possible

Newtonville Books

Wednesday, August 17 at 7PM

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Meg Little Reilly, We are Unprepared

Porter Square Books

Tuesday, August 30 at 7pm

 

 

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best books of 2016 so far

Best Books of 2016 so far. I read a lot of historical fiction and memoir so not surprisingly that’s mostly what makes my list. These are listed more or less in the order read.

the other woman

The Other Woman by Therese Bohman [Other Press]

–from my review: This novel bursts with intellectual prowess. It’s witty, provocative and thoughtful about money, class, what it is to have less and desire more, to be educated and smart but not particularly suited to anything. Swedish author Therese Bohman examines societal expectations of what makes a complete life: a good job; a happy coupling; a nice place. All the things by which we define ourselves but realize the innate superficiality of it all.

alligator candy

Alligator Candy: a memoir by David Kushner [Simon & Schuster]

Through compelling prose and devastating emotion this memoir potently addresses murder and its effect on the family. review.

rare objects

Rare Objects by Kathleen Tessaro [Harper]

–Author Kathleen Tessaro adeptly describes both the immigrant North End and wealthy mansions with vivid detail. Superb writing and research merge to tell this wonderful story. Rare Objects is a page-turner about class, friendship and the things and people we value most. full review.

lazaretto

Lazaretto by Diane McKinney-Whetstone [Harper]

–Set in post-Civil War Philadelphia, this historical novel beautifully explores race, class, gender and family. complete review.

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The Vegetarian by Kang Han [Hogarth]

The Man Booker International Prize 2016 Winner It’s dark and suspenseful. Entirely original and engrossing. I’ve been a vegan for nearly 10 years and am not too thin.  I stopped eating red meat at 12 and everything but fish at 18. So the being deprived and malnourished because she’s not eating meat is bothering me a tad.

modern girls

Modern Girls by Jennifer Brown

Clear your schedule and make a big pitcher of iced tea. Once you start this wonderful, detailed novel you’ll want to read straight through. review.

Greenidge_WeLoveYouCharlieFreeman_HC_jkt_FINAL_PRNT.indd

We Love You, Charlie Freeman by Kaitlyn Greenidge

We Love You, Charlie Freeman stands out as a thoughtful and provocative novel which effectively and creatively winds together numerous subjects from coming-of-age, first love, adolescence, sisterhood, race, anthropology, history and family dynamics. complete review.

heat and light

Heat & Light by Jennifer Haigh [Ecco]

At turns fascinating, sad, infuriating, provocative and authentic, Heat & Light pulls in the reader from the jump. This well-researched, impressive novel exposes many angles of fracking. In order to capture this present day dilemma, Haigh effectively dips into the past with the Three Mile Island disaster as well as coaling. The novel generously addresses an important hot-button topic with sharp prose and a stellar cast of characters as well as an intriguing story-line. complete review.

26890699

An Abbreviated Life: a memoir by Ariel Leve [Harper]

–stunning memoir about an adult daughter coming to terms with her childhood and relationship [or lack of] with her mother..

sun in your eyes

The Sun in Your Eyes by Deborah Shapiro [William Morrow]

–from my review: Shapiro delves into the women’s college friendship and its connection to the present. She offers insight, detail and vivid descriptions that allow the reader to understand each woman, their bond and reliance upon one another. Women’s bonds often become broken due to relationships with men (or marriage and families). To this many women (and likely men) will relate. Vivian’s relationship and later marriage to Andy created a rift between the friends. The road trip allows the women to examine their friendship and determine whether or not they should rekindle their friendship, however tumultuous it may have been at times. Jealousy and differing goals certainly pushed and pulled at its core.

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book review: Heat & Light

heat and light

Heat & Light by Jennifer Haigh. Ecco| May 3, 2016| 488 pages | $26.99| ISBN: 9780061763298

RATING: 4.5/5*

Returning to Bakerton, Pennsylvania—the setting for the 2005 best-selling novel Baker Towers—author Jennifer Haigh again focuses on an energy source and its effects on a small community. For decades, coal fueled Bakerton and the country. In this town, multiple generations worked in the coal mines. Few left to pursue higher education or a different path. Bakerton sits on the Marcellus Shale, a huge natural gas deposit. Tapping into this natural gas source utilizes questionable techniques and could lead to possibly dangerous and deadly consequences. Haigh creatively examines fracking through nuanced, broken characters and a detailed sense of place. She vividly describes the process as well as the rough crews attracted to these high-risk, high-paying short-term gigs– mostly men who work hard and party harder. Not all that different from the coal mining days.

“Rural Pennsylvania doesn’t fascinate the world, not generally. But cyclically, periodically, its innards are of interest. Bore it, strip it, set it on fire, a burnt offering to the collective need.”

Some residents choose to lease their land while others remain wary of fracking and its side-effects. Prison guard Rich Devlin wants to run a farm while his wife Shelby believes that the water might be poisoning their daughter. Organic dairy farmers Mack and Rena remain against the drilling and refuse to lease or sell their land. Rena meets an environmental activist and becomes involved in anti-fracking issues. Influxes of out-of-state drillers disrupt and divide the town. Relationships may implode. Money changes the perspective and drive. Their lives might improve a bit. For many this seemingly easy money might resolve their struggles and allow them to expand their goals.

“The town is named for its coal mines. The prison guard is named for his father. Both feel the weight of their naming, the ancestral burden: congenital defects, secondhand hopes.”

Bakerton remains in a bit of a limbo. Alcohol, meth and religion allow people to avoid feelings and band-aid emotional wounds. At turns fascinating, sad, infuriating, provocative and authentic, Heat & Light pulls in the reader from the jump. This well-researched, impressive novel exposes many angles of fracking. In order to capture this present day dilemma, Haigh effectively dips into the past with the Three Mile Island disaster as well as coaling. The novel generously addresses an important hot-button topic with sharp prose and a stellar cast of characters as well as an intriguing story-line.

–review by Amy Steele

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review from Putnam.

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purchase at Amazon: Heat and Light: A Novel

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Boston-area book readings of note in May

heat and light

Jennifer Haigh, Heat & Light

Brookline Booksmith

Monday, May 2 at 7pm

RE Jane

Patricia Park, Re Jane

Beijing Bastard

Val Wang, Beijing Bastard

Porter Square Books

Monday, May 2 at 7pm

in the country we love

Diane Guerrero, In the Country We Love

Brookline Booksmith

Tuesday, May 3 at 7pm

history of great things

Elizabeth Crane, The History of Great Things

Porter Square Books

Wednesday, May 4 at 7pm

everybodys fool

Richard Russo, Everybody’s Fool

Brookline Booksmith

Wednesday, May 4 at 7pm

the honeymoon

Dinitia Smith, The Honeymoon

Harvard Book Store

Tuesday, May 10 at 7pm

modern girls

Jennifer S. Brown, Modern Girls

two-family house

Lynda Cohen Loigman, The Two-Family House

Brookline Booksmith

Wednesday, May 11 at 7pm

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Fredrik Backman, Britt-Marie Was Here

Brookline Booksmith

Wednesday, May 18 at 7pm

the gene

Siddhartha Mukherjee, The Gene: An Intimate History

Harvard Bookstore

At Brattle Theatre

Wednesday, May 18 at 6pm

a country road a tree

Jo Baker, A Country Road, a Tree

Brookline Booksmith

Thursday, May 19 at 7pm

porcelain

Moby, Porcelain: a Memoir

Brookline Booksmith

Friday, May 20 at 7pm

labor of love

Moira Weigel, Labor of Love: The Invention of Dating

Harvard Book Store

Monday, May 23 at 7pm

noise of time

Julian Barnes, The Noise of Time

Coolidge Corner Theatre/ Brookline Booksmith event

Thursday, May 26 at 6pm

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News from Heaven: book review

news from heaven

News from Heaven: The Bakerton Stories by Jennifer Haigh. Publisher: Harper (January 29, 2013). Literary fiction. Hardcover. 256 pages. ISBN: 0060889640.

When she wrote her second novel—the authentic and riveting Baker Towers, Jennifer Haigh created the fictitious mining town Bakerton, Pennsylvania with memorable characters and a strong sense of place. In her new short story collection, she returns to Bakerton. It’s the type of small mid-Atlantic state town where people stay and pursue the same blue collar jobs generation after generation, where they die from black lung disease, where they marry their high school girlfriends and boyfriends often because of pregnancies and where dreams don’t travel far beyond the town’s borders. Those who move beyond Bakerton’s jurisdiction tend to become outsiders. Or they look back with melancholy and regret. It’s rather bleak and very small town America.

A girl meets her aunt, merely 12 years older than her in “Broken Star.” She enjoys the company of this cool older woman yet doesn’t understand her mother’s tepid attitude until she learns years later her aunt was her sister in need of a kidney. “Favorite Son” encapsulates Bakerton’s changing landscape and communal dreams through the dashed post-high school football career of a star athlete. What I like best about “Favorite Son” is the narrator. I made an incorrect assumption. How fantastic when that happens.

“I was that young once, Agnes thinks, but it isn’t true. At fifteen she was middle-aged already. She is younger now than she was then.”
–“Thrift”

“Thrift” is a marvelously peculiar story about a 50-year-old woman who never left Bakerton. Agnes saved her money working as a nurse. Took care of her ailing miner father. After her mom died she worked at the hospital and lived in her parents’ house until one day she met the much younger Luke. Her sister doesn’t trust him. Agnes maybe doesn’t know better or doesn’t care. She’s enjoying herself.

“His whole life, he’d believed there were two kinds of men: the kind who’d fathered him and the kind who’d raised him; men who took advantage of their freedom and men who threw it away; men who lived big lives and men who were content being small.”
“The Bottom of Things”

My favorite story might be “The Bottom of Things” which best describes that struggle between being comfortable with the familiar or breaking the cycle of small town suffocation to become successful. News from Heaven is a collection to be savored and treasured. Keenly observant and sophisticated.

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review from the publisher.

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STEELE INTERVIEWS: author Jennifer Haigh

Faith engulfs the reader in its examination of religion and familial bonds. The fourth novel from Boston-based writer Jennifer Haigh delves into the personal fallout when a priest gets accused of a horrific act against a child. Questions arise, lines get drawn.

Jennifer Haigh kindly took the time to answer my questions.

Amy Steele: What interested you in writing about Boston’s Catholic Church scandal?

Jennifer Haigh: When I moved to Boston from Iowa in 2002, the city was reeling from revelations that Catholic priests had molested children, and that the Archdiocese had covered up the abuse. I was raised in a Catholic family, spent twelve years in parochial schools and had extremely fond memories of my interactions with Catholic clergy. It’s no exaggeration to say that nuns and priests were the heroes of my childhood. Like many people, I was horrified by what had happened in Boston – and, as later became clear, in Catholic dioceses across the country. Faith was my attempt to explain the inexplicable, to understand what I couldn’t make sense of in any other way.

Amy Steele: You have great details about seminary life. How did you research the book?

Jennifer Haigh: Priests were a fixture of my childhood, and yet when I began writing Faith, I realized that I understood very little about what their daily lives were like. I read a terrific memoir, The Other Side of the Altar, written by a former priest named Paul Dinter. Later I contacted the writer and told him about the novel I was writing. He very generously agreed to answer my questions about life in the priesthood. Paul taught me a lot about the education and training seminarians receive as well as the day-to-day duties of an ordained priest.

Amy Steele: Why did you decide to narrate the story in the way you did—sort of first person/ kind of third person piecing everything together?

Jennifer Haigh: It was an accident, really. I’d never written a novel in the first person. It seemed unnecessarily limiting, since it’s rare for a single character to know all the interesting parts of any story. But as I read about priests accused of abusing children, I was struck by the difficulty of proving or disproving such charges. There are never any witnesses; the only people who know the truth of the story are the priest and the child, and often neither will talk about it. The rest of us can only speculate about what went on behind closed doors, and that’s exactly what the narrator does in Faith. The novel is Sheila’s attempt to arrive at the truth, not merely the facts of the case but the reasons behind them. In that sense, it mirrors the way we all try to parse these stories: with very little evidence one way or the other, it’s hard to know what to believe.

Amy Steele: I think a lot of people forget that priests have family. Why were you attracted to this aspect of a clergy’s life?

Jennifer Haigh: Priests have an unusual relationship to family: they live very isolated lives, and choose not to marry or have families of their own. And yet they are always somebody’s son, somebody’s brother. That interests me.

Amy Steele: All your novels have been about complex family dynamics. In Faith you focus on the three siblings. How did you decide on characters and how they’d interact?

Jennifer Haigh: There’s no good answer to this question. It’s a series of very small decisions made over several years. I’m a slow writer and discover the characters incrementally, one small bit at a time.

Amy Steele: When you come up with an idea, do characters come to you first or the story?

Jennifer Haigh: Characters always come first. Before I write a single chapter, I spend about six months ruminating about who these people are, where they came from, how they feel about each other. By the time I sit down to write, they are as real to me as anyone in my own life, and I have a real sense of how they’d react in any given situation.

Amy Steele: What is most important to you when writing a novel?

Jennifer Haigh: To use the language well, and to tell the truth as I see it. Though the characters and situations are invented, I think novels can be truer than journalism, tell larger truths about what it means to be human. At least, that’s the hope.

Amy Steele: What is your favorite thing about your novel Faith?

Jennifer Haigh: I am exceedingly fond of all these characters, and of the landscape of the South Shore.

Amy Steele: Having written three well-received books, did you feel pressure in writing this one?

Jennifer Haigh: No more or less than usual. As always, the first year was extraordinarily difficult. It’s hard to make something out of nothing, and I always wonder periodically if I’m fooling myself. In that respect, the fourth book isn’t any harder than the first one, or any easier.

Amy Steele: How has your writing process changed over the years?

Jennifer Haigh: It’s changed very little. I still work slowly and consistently, and am quite secretive about what I’m writing. I spend the first year or so drafting the story and a couple more years revising. The only significant difference is that I now work outside my home, at a little writing studio with no telephone, no internet access and absolutely no distractions. I can’t work in cafes or parks or on airplanes, because there’s simply too much too look at. I need the imaginary world in my head to be more vivid that the one in front of me.


trailer for Faith

Jennifer Haigh website

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purchase at Amazon: Faith: A Novel

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