Book Nook: Mercy Street, by Jennifer Haigh

My wife has joined a book club. Or as most of it call them, a wine night. The first book selection since she joined was Mercy Street, by Jennifer Haigh (not to be confused with the PBS civil war drama). Since our Audible accounts are linked, I have access to all her books and thought, hey, why not. I do not read much fiction, and certainly not much modern fiction, but I like having the ability to discuss such things with my wife, so I gave it a listen. We actually read a lot of the same nonfiction stuff anyway. Besides, if I am going to make her watch everything Star Wars and Marvel related, I owe her a book or two every now and then.

The Boston-set Mercy Street is set around four main characters all related to, or tangentially related to the Mercy Street women’s health clinic, including main protagonist Claudia, who works there. Talk about a timely read the last couple of weeks. I think I was right at the midway point when the Roe v. Wade overturn decision became official.

The book narrative is the “here are four character’s stories, let’s see how they intermingle by the end” variety. Joining Claudio are her weed dealer, Tim; a customer of Tim’s named Anthony and an earth-doomer/militant named Victor. Other characters are merely side fodder.

Haigh is witty in providing nuance to these characters, built around very bipolar themes–abortions, guns, drugs, etc. She paints gray characters in and around black-and-white to most themes. The story then explores the fine line between rationalization, radicalization and coping mechanisms, with some depravity tossed in for consequence. It explores how choices and happenstance alike lead to those consequences without really defining right and wrong. It is…restrained in this.

Mercy Street is admittedly not a genre of book I would typically gravitate too. But now I’m genuinely curious what my wife thought of it as well. And that was the point all along. So thanks Wine Book Club.


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