Fiction Book Review: Heat and Light by Jennifer Haigh. Ecco, $ (p) ISBNThank you! Haigh, who wrote a morally complex, narrowly focused book about the hot-button issue of child molestation by Catholic priests in Faith , takes a broader approach in this sprawling, thickly populated novel about fracking. Prison guard Rich Devlin and his dissatisfied wife, Shelby, a neurotically protective mother, are one of the first to sign a lease—for too little money per acre, they soon learn. Then the digging noise begins to keep them awake, their water turns undrinkable, and their sickly daughter gets sicker or does she? Meanwhile at the organic dairy farm next door, lesbian partners Mack and Rena refuse to sign. Rena is soon drawn into the larger anti-fracking movement and finds herself dangerously attracted to a male activist.
Dark, sad, and beautiful. Instead, Haigh gets inside frackers, locals, and activists alike, finding flawed, warm individuals in all camps. The Pennsylvania native returns here to her fictional western Pennsylvania former coal town: Bakerton, a community of marginally sustainable farms above the alluring Marcellus Shale. Its depressed economy supports many bars, and a prison chock-full of drug offenders. Bakerton looks like low-hanging fruit for the fracking operatives who come to town to buy mineral rights and drill.
A beautifully written look behind the curtain of fracking and into the lives of those affected by it. We meet those who are enriched by the technology, who work the machines, who protest or publicize, and, most extensively, those who live on property atop the valuable shale. Haigh wrote about coal mining in Baker Towers and sets her new story in the same fictional town in Western Pennsylvania. Bakerton once thrived, but with the fall of coal, it drifted into poverty. But cyclically, periodically, its innards are of interest. Bore it, strip it, set it on fire, a burnt offering to the collective need.
Haigh writes about them, as she has in several novels set in the fictitious coal town of Bakerton, in the western part of the state. Haigh is an expertly nuanced storyteller long overdue for major attention. Her work is gripping, real and totally immersive, akin to that of writers as different as Richard Price , Richard Ford and Richard Russo. They are part of the stellar literary lineup of her admirers. With this book, she moves one big step closer to being in their league.