Karen Karbo
January 10, 2005 AT 05:00 AM EST

Set in the Pennsylvania coal-mining town of Bakerton in the years following WWII, Jennifer Haigh’s appealing second novel Baker Towers concerns the fate of the Novak family. Polish patriarch Stanley drops dead of heart failure at 54, leaving five children: diffident war vet George, who escapes work in the mines by marrying into society; pretty, fragile Dorothy; whip-smart Joyce, who bitterly holds the clan together; handsome ne’er-do-well Sandy; and Lucy, the indulged baby sister. Unlike in her snazzier debut, Mrs. Kimble, Haigh treads close to Hallmark movie land with her predictably reverent portrayal of small-town virtues (the only villain is Marion, George’s rich wife, who hails from Philadelphia’s Main Line and doesn’t cook). But in clean, authoritative prose, Haigh uncannily injects new life into an era too often entombed by nostalgia.

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