Acclaimed New York Times bestselling author Jennifer Haigh returns to the Pennsylvania town at the center of her iconic novel Baker Towers in this ambitious, achingly human story of modern America and the conflicting forces at its heart—a bold, moving drama of hope and desperation, greed and power, big business and small-town families.
Forty years ago, Bakerton coal fueled the country. 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, a 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, who insists the water smells strange and is poisoning their frail daughter. 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. Soaring and ambitious, it zooms from drill rig to shareholders’ meeting to the Three Mile Island nuclear reactor to the ruined landscape of the “strippins,” haunting reminders of Pennsylvania’s past energy booms. This is a dispatch from a forgotten America—a work of searing moral clarity from one of the finest writers of her generation, a courageous and necessary book.
For her excellent sixth work of fiction, Haigh (The Condition) returns to the mortally wounded mining town of Bakerton, Pa., peopled by unsettled folks whose ennui seems genetic, even in the wake of what might be a renaissance as the town begins exploiting a massive deposit of natural gas. Prison guard Rich Devlin signs over the mineral rights to his Pap's farm, hoping for a better life for himself, his wife, Shelby, and their chronically ill daughter, Olivia. Pastor Jess, the widow of Pastor Wes, counsels the hypochondriac Shelby, but begins to unravel herself as she becomes involved with Herc, a member of the Texan drilling crew whom the townspeople resent as noisy outsiders. The Devlins' neighbors, Mack and Rena, are organic dairy farmers whose customers begin to fall away as rumor spreads of contamination from the new drilling. And Gia, the waitress at Rich's dad's bar, has a drug problem that no one but Rich's brother, Darren, a recovering addict himself, can see. The author has deftly, and with few false notes, created a geography of connections among the townspeople, who are brothers, daughters, high school sweethearts, and strangers. Haigh has conjured stories of great consequence out of rural Pennsylvania, observing that "more than most places, Pennsylvania is what lies beneath." She has tapped the deep well of the human condition and relayed something profound about America at the turn of the 21st century.
Heat and light
This book tries to show many perspectives on fracking in Pennsylvania. It takes a while to develop the characters, starts with stereotypes and moves to a place of greater empathy.