Pick of the Month

WITF's Pick of the Month bring's you the very best books and more. Every month we’ll recommend a great book for you to check out--from biographies and novels to poetry, children’s books and more. We’ll promote selections monthly on WITF TV and on WITF FM 89.5. Read along with us as we discover literary finds that engage, enlighten and entertain. Bookmark this page to keep up to date with the latest info about monthly picks—including details on how you can meet the authors. Pick up a copy and start reading today!

April pick of the month: Heat and Light by Jennifer Haigh

Written by Midtown Scholar Bookstore | Apr 3, 2017 9:30 AM
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This April, fracking regulations and clean water provisions are making statewide headlines again. If you want to go beyond the news reports to understand the human stories that lie beneath, let PEN/Hemingway Award-winning author Jennifer Haigh (Dickinson '90) be your guide.

Haigh's latest novel, HEAT AND LIGHT, charts the contested relationships between Pennsylvania's farmers and drillers, activists and agencies, citizens and corporations--on the most intimate, personal level. She trains her writerly lens on women and men's diverse ways of experiencing family and community in the fictional Bakerton, inspired by her Cambria County hometown. The characters' intertwined, emotionally resonant stories, spanning the 1970s to nearly the present day and undergirded throughout by a keen sense of place, reveal profound truths about their social and interior lives--and our own.

Deeper than Americans' addiction to fossil fuels, sharper than the clash of agriculture versus the energy industry, the fractured connections between parents and children, friends and lovers, and husbands and wives are at the crux of this riveting novel.

Forty years ago, Bakerton coal fueled the United States. 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's 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. 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. Haigh offers a dispatch from the heart of Pennsylvania in a work of searing moral clarity, a courageous and necessary book.

Imperfect men and women aspire to better themselves and their families, grapple with small lies that become dangerous secrets, fend off addictions, fight off assaults, feign to help one another, act with selfish abandon, offer grace and forgiveness, spur or spurn retribution, struggle with the consequences of past and present choices, tragically fail to value what should matter most, and in rare cases demonstrate the compelling heroism of following their convictions at momentous turns.

In the grooves, fissures, and strippins of the story, Haigh recalls the determinative moments in her characters' lives. A Middletown ranch house on the morning of Three Mile Island's meltdown. A 1970s Penn State campus assault. A Houston billionaire's penthouse, a Baltimore junkie's hovel. Against the backdrop of farmhouses and taverns, in a prayer-filled Main Street church or in a protest-riven University quad, these women and men's ordinary heartaches and heart's-desires come into sharp relief.

Haigh's crisp language, finely crafted metaphors, and powerful voice have earned comparisons to Sinclair Lewis's social novels. HEAT AND LIGHT is reminiscent, too, of Upton Sinclair's OIL! She has recast the historical and contemporary evolution of Pennsylvania's coal, nuclear power, and natural gas industries as classic Americana fiction.

Among the most remarkable chapters are those relating Three Mile Island's accident and its aftermath, through the viewpoint of the Biblically-entrusted procedural Handbook and the unconcerned eyes of a seven-year-old boy. Her vividly drawn characters ply readers' emotions and invest us in their longings, their moral lapses, their desperate exit-strategies, and their last-ditch attempts to recalibrate their daily lives when disasters loom.

Read-with-us this spring! Then join other WITF /Midtown Scholar Pick-of-the-Month book club readers on Saturday, October 14, when the Midtown Scholar Bookstore welcomes author Jennifer Haigh as a keynote speaker at the 2017 Harrisburg Book Festival.

Published in Pick of the Month

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