A BEST BOOK OF THE YEAR: New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal , NPR
Acclaimed New York Times bestselling author Jennifer Haigh returns to the Pennsylvania town at the center of her iconic novel Baker Towers in this ambitious, achingly human story of modern America and the conflicting forces at its heart--a bold, moving drama of hope and desperation, greed and power, big business and small-town families.Read more...
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A BEST BOOK OF THE YEAR: New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, NPR
Acclaimed New York Times bestselling author Jennifer Haigh returns to the Pennsylvania town at the center of her iconic novel Baker Towers in this ambitious, achingly human story of modern America and the conflicting forces at its heart--a bold, moving drama of hope and desperation, greed and power, big business and small-town families.
Forty years ago, Bakerton coal fueled the country. Then the mines closed, and the town wore away like a bar of soap. Now Bakerton has been granted a surprise third act: it sits squarely atop the Marcellus Shale, a massive deposit of natural gas.
To drill or not to drill? Prison guard Rich Devlin leases his mineral rights to finance his dream of farming. He doesn't count on the truck traffic and nonstop noise, his brother's skepticism or the paranoia of his wife, Shelby, who insists the water smells strange and is poisoning their frail daughter. Meanwhile his neighbors, organic dairy farmers Mack and Rena, hold out against the drilling--until a passionate environmental activist disrupts their lives.
Told through a cast of characters whose lives are increasingly bound by the opposing interests that underpin the national debate, Heat and Light depicts a community blessed and cursed by its natural resources. Soaring and ambitious, it zooms from drill rig to shareholders' meeting to the Three Mile Island nuclear reactor to the ruined landscape of the "strippins," haunting reminders of Pennsylvania's past energy booms. This is a dispatch from a forgotten America--a work of searing moral clarity from one of the finest writers of her generation, a courageous and necessary book.
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2016-05-23
- Reviewer: Staff
For her excellent sixth work of fiction, Haigh (The Condition) returns to the mortally wounded mining town of Bakerton, Pa., peopled by unsettled folks whose ennui seems genetic, even in the wake of what might be a renaissance as the town begins exploiting a massive deposit of natural gas. Prison guard Rich Devlin signs over the mineral rights to his Pap's farm, hoping for a better life for himself, his wife, Shelby, and their chronically ill daughter, Olivia. Pastor Jess, the widow of Pastor Wes, counsels the hypochondriac Shelby, but begins to unravel herself as she becomes involved with Herc, a member of the Texan drilling crew whom the townspeople resent as noisy outsiders. The Devlins' neighbors, Mack and Rena, are organic dairy farmers whose customers begin to fall away as rumor spreads of contamination from the new drilling. And Gia, the waitress at Rich's dad's bar, has a drug problem that no one but Rich's brother, Darren, a recovering addict himself, can see. The author has deftly, and with few false notes, created a geography of connections among the townspeople, who are brothers, daughters, high school sweethearts, and strangers. Haigh has conjured stories of great consequence out of rural Pennsylvania, observing that "more than most places, Pennsylvania is what lies beneath." She has tapped the deep well of the human condition and relayed something profound about America at the turn of the 21st century. (May)
A ravaged mining town turns fracking target
The dying town of Bakerton, Pennsylvania, was fueled by the coal industry for generations, but now its only hope is natural gas. Bakerton sits atop an enormous deposit, which can only be accessed by fracking: violent drilling that leaves the surrounding ground poisoned.
The families with properties on the Marcellus Shale don’t know what fracking entails. They just know that a mysterious Texas company with the vaguely sinister name Dark Elephant Energy is offering them a golden ticket out of poverty. Never mind the past ravages mining has brought to their community. In Heat and Light, Jennifer Haigh reminds us of our short memories when it comes to choosing between our environment and our wallet.
Heat and Light is a searing novel that shows all sides of the fracking debate: the charismatic Texas businessman who sees natural gas as the future, the organic dairy farmers who see their livelihood threatened by pollution, the zealous environmentalist trying to organize opposition.
Haigh previously wrote about the 1940s heyday of real-life Bakerton in Baker Towers, and she returns in top form. Her writing is clear-eyed and nonjudgmental. A low-grade dread pervades every page of the book—the instability and uncertainty of a bad economy and limited choices. Haigh’s characters are deeply sympathetic; they are good people looking for a way forward. She delves into each of their lives, unfolding their flaws and histories for examination. Heat and Light is as thought-provoking as it gets, brilliantly written and resonant.