Reviewed by Alisha Churbe
News from Heaven is a collection of ten stories that all take place in the small fictional Pennsylvania town of Bakerton. In some instances, the stories and characters overlap, but most are stories related to a certain family or relationship in the town. Reading the collection is much like walking through a small town, stopping on occasion to peek in windows and eavesdrop on conversations. The collection is as much about the town as it is about the people who reside there, but also how the past affects daily life in the present. The town holds certain people with a tighter grip than others, but it seems that Bakerton will always be a part of those who reside there, long after they leave.
Haigh’s stories move quickly, but run deep into emotions and scars that in some cases have been hidden for many generations. In “Beast and Bird,” the then young Annie Lubicki is sent to be a serving girl in Manhattan for a prominent Jewish family. Annie does a good job there, but one misstep sends her right back to the town of Bakerton. In “Broken Star,” Melanie, an inhabitant who had gone ‘away’ which is defined by the town as, “anywhere outside rural Pennsylvania…Philadelphia was away. Pittsburgh…was emphatically away.” Melanie had been away since her high school graduation, but returns with a secret now at the age of thirty-one. Some of the characters return, some of them leave but all of them contribute to the story of the town and what it means to reside there and away in their own unique voice and perspective.
The collection will leave you wanting to know more of Bakerton and its inhabitants. Rural Pennsylvania has never held such curiosity; the town is full of secrets, those that are hidden and those that are speculated about. The characters are entertaining, shocking and well-defined, you’ll think of them fondly after you’ve read the last page. Haigh is certainly making a good name for herself. After four novels this is her first collection of short fiction, but a good debut and I hope to see more from her in the future.
Part-time fiction writer, Alisha Churbe lives in Portland, Oregon. In the rare instances when you can pry her away from books, Alisha can be found travelling in foreign countries, cooking, or hiking with her husband Michael and dog Euro.
Review copy was provided free of any obligation by Harper. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.