Despite its treacly title, this collection of short stories shows depth, understanding and compassion rather than sentimentality.
Most of the stories take place in or near Bakerton, Pa., populated largely by Polish and Italian Catholic immigrants. “Beast and Bird,” the initial story in the collection, takes us back to World War II and focuses on the life of Annie Lubicki, a serving girl for the Nudelmans in New York City’s Upper West Side. Annie’s life is one of domestic dreariness and loneliness. She meets a potential boyfriend, Jim, on a double date, but his anti-Semitism troubles her. Instead, she feels drawn to Daniel Nudelman, the son in the family, but she’s displaced when the Nudelmans’ nephew permanently “visits” from Poland to escape the ravages of the war. In “Broken Star,” Regina’s Aunt Melanie comes to visit Regina along with her daughter, Tilly. Regina hasn’t seen her aunt in over 12 years and questions the lengthy stay by relatives she feels are intrusive. Only years later does she discover that Melanie, who has died, was actually her sister and that Melanie had needed a kidney and was desperately looking for a donor who matched. “A Place in the Sun” introduces us to Sandy, who's trying to fight a gambling compulsion but counter-intuitively takes his girlfriend, Marnie, to Vegas to celebrate his birthday. We find that for years he’s been trying to escape the life he left behind in Bakerton—a father who died in the mines and a “bleak small-town life worse than jail, a prison from which no one escaped.”
Haigh’s narratives are beautifully realized stories of heartbreak, of qualified love and of economic as well as personal depression.