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Reviews of Mercy Street by Jennifer Haigh

Mercy Street

A Novel

by Jennifer Haigh

Mercy Street by Jennifer Haigh X
Mercy Street by Jennifer Haigh
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Feb 2022, 352 pages

    Paperback:
    Feb 2023, 400 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Kim Kovacs
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About this Book

Book Summary

The highly praised, "extraordinary" (New York Times Book Review) novel about the disparate lives that intersect at a women's clinic in Boston, by New York Times bestselling author Jennifer Haigh

For almost a decade, Claudia has counseled patients at Mercy Street, a clinic in the heart of the city. The work is consuming, the unending dramas of women in crisis. For its patients, Mercy Street offers more than health care; for many, it is a second chance.

But outside the clinic, the reality is different. Anonymous threats are frequent. A small, determined group of anti-abortion demonstrators appears each morning at its door. As the protests intensify, fear creeps into Claudia's days, a humming anxiety she manages with frequent visits to Timmy, an affable pot dealer in the midst of his own existential crisis. At Timmy's, she encounters a random assortment of customers, including Anthony, a lost soul who spends most of his life online, chatting with the mysterious Excelsior11—the screenname of Victor Prine, an anti-abortion crusader who has set his sights on Mercy Street and is ready to risk it all for his beliefs.

Mercy Street is a novel for right now, a story of the polarized American present. Jennifer Haigh, "an expert natural storyteller with a keen sense of her characters' humanity" (New York Times), has written a groundbreaking novel, a fearless examination of one of the most divisive issues of our time.

Winter

1

It's hard to know, ever, where a story begins. We touch down in a world fully inhabited by others, a drama already in progress. By the time we make our entrance—incontinent and screaming, like dirty bombs detonating—the climax is a distant memory. Our arrival is not the beginning; it is a consequence.

The starting point is arbitrary. When Claudia looks back on that winter (as New Englanders can't help doing), the days fuse together in her memory: the weak light fading early, salt trucks clattering down the avenues, a bitter wind slicing through her coat. She had no sense, at the time, of forces aligning, a chain of events set into motion.

Like everyone else, she was distracted by the snow.

The season had arrived late, like a querulous old man who refused to be rushed. The first weeks of January were arid and silent, bare pavement and short blue afternoons, a blinding glare off the harbor, seagulls diving in the slanted winter sun. Then a massive nor'easter ...

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

The novel has many excellent qualities, first and foremost of which is Haigh's ability to create truly three-dimensional characters. What makes them outstanding is not only their depth, but their ability to change and grow over the course of the novel. Unfortunately, I feel there are also a couple of major problems with the book. The author missed an opportunity to have a rational debate about abortion rights — depicting anti-abortionists as exclusively male and completely irrational paints with entirely too broad a brush...continued

Full Review (636 words)

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(Reviewed by Kim Kovacs).

Media Reviews

New York Times
[Haigh is] a superb unsung novelist hovering just under the radar... Abortion, guns, vigilantism, drug dealing, white supremacy, bitter misogyny and online fetishism all figure in the tableau Haigh expertly details... . Her books might feel traditional if she relied on simple structure, but she likes Altmanesque ways of weaving characters together... . She's largely not interested in destruction here: These people have seen enough of it already. She's interested in what makes them human.

New York Times Book Review (Editors' Choice)
Extraordinary ... Wonderfully entertaining, boasting a large, varied cast of vividly drawn characters whose company readers will find deeply rewarding, in no small part because lurking in their shadows is the devastatingly wry humor of their creator... [Haigh is] paying close attention to their choices, large and small. That's not artifice, it's art. And I was gobsmacked.

Real Simple
Perceptive... . In Haigh's expert hands, [Mercy Street] explores how we arrive at the beliefs we hold.

San Francisco Chronicle
Haigh deftly walks across the fault line of one of the most divisive issues of our age, peeling back ideology and revealing what all ideology refuses to recognize: an individual's humanity...Mercy Street argues, both in form and content, that compassion is a powerful counterpoint to the conflict-driven stories that dominate our news cycles, our news feeds and our Netflix queues. In Haigh's world, in other words, mercy may no longer be fashionable, but it sure is necessary.

Wall Street Journal
Terrifically readable.

Washington Post
Haigh has been a brilliant witness to the struggles of ordinary people.

Kirkus Reviews
Haigh excels at depicting people beaten down by life, but it's hard to feel much sympathy for her drearily drawn male protagonists, who are less nuanced individuals than indistinguishable stereotypes. With the anti-abortion movement gathering steam in the legislative arena, her portrait feels dated. Despite its flaws, Haigh's novel will provide plenty of discussion fodder for reading groups.

Library Journal
Haigh (Baker Towers), an award-winning, New York Times best-selling author, holds her readers captive from first to last page with an unflinching look at the human tragedies that lie behind every layer of the never-ending controversial national abortion battle. Her piercing character portrayals and eavesdrop-quality dialogue will have readers asking for her previous works.

Publishers Weekly
There are some solid building blocks, but they crumble into an unsatisfying resolution. This doesn't hit the high marks it aims for.

Author Blurb Rebecca Makkai, Pulitzer Prize finalist for The Great Believers
Mercy Street is propulsive, urgent, and essential. Haigh writes with uncommon insight and compassion (and, yes, mercy) about people whose ideals are so strikingly at odds that we can only wait for their lives to collide. I was riveted and transported, and want to hand this book to everyone I know.

Author Blurb Richard Ford
Mercy Street is a savvy, keen-eyed, witty, wise, and altogether luminous novel. A triumph. Jennifer Haigh is a young master of this form. Though, at day's end, I'd read her just to read her.

Author Blurb Vendela Vida, author of We Run the Tides
Mercy Street is a bold, important, beautifully written and incredibly timely novel.

Reader Reviews

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Beyond the Book

Abortions in the U.S.: Who Has Them?

Planned Parenthood sign reading Care No Matter WhatJennifer Haigh's novel, Mercy Street, centers around a clinic that provides women's health care services, including abortion.

As most know, it is already difficult to gain access to legal abortion services in many parts of the United States; but legislation to outlaw access is now gaining traction, both by the Supreme Court and in many conservative states. However, some might not be aware that abortion was unregulated in the U.S. until the mid-1800s. According to Planned Parenthood, before this time, "Common law allowed for abortion prior to 'quickening' – an archaic term for fetal movement that usually happens after around four months of pregnancy." Medical literature of the day regularly discussed abortion methods, focusing on ...

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