Jennifer Haigh's second novel is set in a small town in Pennsylvania in the industrial boom that followed World War II. It is an intimate portrait of love and family.
Stanley Novak is a first-generation Polish immigrant. Seeking a better life, he settles in Bakerton and finds work in the booming local mine. He meets and marries Rose, a shy, beautiful Italian girl. They move to a mine-owned house in an area of town known as Polish Hill, teeming with immigrants from all over Europe, all chasing the American Dream. Five children follow for the Novaks. The Novak children belong to what will someday be known as the Greatest Generation, but for now, they are just trying to find their identities in a vastly changing world. The five children could not be more different. The eldest, George, avoids signing up but is drafted to the Pacific when America joins the war. He comes home determined to leave Bakerton behind, but finds it much more difficult the second time around. Dorothy is a fragile and naive girl, who finds it hard to cope with her desk job in Washington. Joyce, fiercely intelligent, must hold the family together and remains bitterly aware of the life that she could have had. Sandy, the youngest boy, swans through life with his movie-star looks, never taking responsibility for his actions. And Lucy, the youngest, must find her own path in the shadow of her formidable siblings.
Haigh gives us a beautiful snapshot of a small town - of company houses and union squabbles; the boom and bust of the post-war years; the immigrant neighbourhoods of Swedetown, Little Italy and Polish Hill; the miners, undertakers, soldiers, firemen and housewives who populate the town and bring it to life.