In her newest novel, Jennifer Haigh returns to the small Pennsylvanian town of Baker Towers, a world she first explored in her 2005 book by the same name. In Baker Towers, she explores coal mining, but in Heat & Light, she opens her book with a short history of oil.
Then, she delivers a single line that stayed with me as I read the rest of the book: "More than most places, Pennsylvania is what lies beneath."
As someone who was born and raised in Pennsylvania, I am well aware of how defined my world was by what was beneath me. I am also well aware of the state's problematic relationships with the environment and the blue collar/working class world. Haigh's newest novel takes us into the heat of this relationship with the story of how fracking invades and thus, changes the lives of those who live in Baker Towers, Pennsylvania.
It's through this story that learn about Rich Devlin, who leases his mineral rights to finance his dreams of farming. We learn about his young daughter, whose mysterious illness may or may not be because of environmental issues that have been caused fracking. We learn about a lonely preacher, who falls in love with one of the workers who is fracking the land. We learn about organic dairy farmers, Mack and Rena, whose business is hurt by the environmental issues going on around them. All of their lives are intertwined by the arrival of fracking in their world.
Yes, Haigh's novel is political. There's no denying that. Still, she doesn't offer any clear cut answers to the questions she poses through her characters about a world where fracking may be both a blessing and a curse.
Perhaps that is what I loved most about this book.
Visit Haigh's website to learn more about Heat & Light and her other novels.
In many ways, I am more of a reader than a writer. This page will serve as a home for my informal reviews of what I've been reading.