Friday, August 19, 2011

Haigh is for Jennifer

If you've missed reading any of Jennifer Haigh's 4 novels, you'll delight in discovering a new author for your literary fiction list. Hallmarks of Haigh's novels include beautiful language, unique multifaceted characters and the author's compassionate understanding of the complexities of family dynamics. Family in different shapes and guises forms the core of Haigh's fiction.

The Condition You'll first meet the McKotches, a large patrician Boston family, at The Captain's House, their usual summer gathering spot on Cape Cod. But this summer, the usual becomes anything but as family members watch Gwen, on the verge of adolescence, enter the water. Comparisons are inevitable between Gwen and her younger cousin but Gwen definitely looks younger. In fact, Gwen is diagnosed with Turner's Syndrome, a condition that will forever hold her in the body of a child. Gwen's condition is obvious but over the next twenty years other family conditions - less obvious but equally significant - financial, emotional and spiritual are masterfully brought to recognition.

Baker Towers The small ramshackle home of the Novaks, an Italian-Polish family, is in the Pennsylvania coal mining town of Bakerton, miles and light years away from the splendors of a Cape Cod summer cottage. Defying the town’s disapproval of intermarriage, Rose and Stanley marry and have 5 children. Stanley’s death at the start of the novel leaves Rose to struggle with raising her children as her own health swiftly deteriorates and as World War II offers some somber choices for her older offspring. Escape and return - the push and pull of their roots - will be the continuing theme that dominates the lives of George, Dorothy, Joyce, Sandy and Lucy as they grow up and make irreversible decisions about their own lives.

Mrs. Kimble, winner of the 2003 Pen/Hemingway Award for outstanding debut fiction, follows the lives of the 3 successive wives of Ken Kimble, a smooth talking enigmatic charmer who changes careers and women in chameleon-like style. Though Birdie, Joan and Dinah span different generations with vastly different dreams and expectations, each convinces herself that Ken is her key to marital bliss and each pays a heavy price for that conviction. 

 Faith: a novel focuses on the life of Art Breen, a lifelong Catholic priest in a suburban Boston parish whose life is suddenly shattered by the accusation that he has abused a young boy. His mother steadfastly refuses to believe that possibility, his half-brother Mike reluctantly believes Art could be guilty and Art himself becomes strangely passive. His half-sister Sheila, long estranged from the family and torn between doubt and disbelief, leaves her life in Philadelphia to return to Boston and discover the truth. Her search will reveal family secrets and fractures that have been submerged for years but must now be confronted by each one of them in ways they could scarcely have imagined.

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