STARRED REVIEW
May 2016

A ravaged mining town turns fracking target

By Jennifer Haigh
Review by
The dying town of Bakerton, Pennsylvania, was fueled by the coal industry for generations, but now its only hope is natural gas. Bakerton sits atop an enormous deposit, which can only be accessed by fracking: violent drilling that leaves the surrounding ground poisoned.
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The dying town of Bakerton, Pennsylvania, was fueled by the coal industry for generations, but now its only hope is natural gas. Bakerton sits atop an enormous deposit, which can only be accessed by fracking: violent drilling that leaves the surrounding ground poisoned.

The families with properties on the Marcellus Shale don’t know what fracking entails. They just know that a mysterious Texas company with the vaguely sinister name Dark Elephant Energy is offering them a golden ticket out of poverty. Never mind the past ravages mining has brought to their community. In Heat and Light, Jennifer Haigh reminds us of our short memories when it comes to choosing between our environment and our wallet.

Heat and Light is a searing novel that shows all sides of the fracking debate: the charismatic Texas businessman who sees natural gas as the future, the organic dairy farmers who see their livelihood threatened by pollution, the zealous environmentalist trying to organize opposition.

Haigh previously wrote about the 1940s heyday of real-life Bakerton in Baker Towers, and she returns in top form. Her writing is clear-eyed and nonjudgmental. A low-grade dread pervades every page of the book—the instability and uncertainty of a bad economy and limited choices. Haigh’s characters are deeply sympathetic; they are good people looking for a way forward. She delves into each of their lives, unfolding their flaws and histories for examination. Heat and Light is as thought-provoking as it gets, brilliantly written and resonant.

 

This article was originally published in the May 2016 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

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Heat and Light

Heat and Light

By Jennifer Haigh
Ecco
ISBN 9780061763298

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