The March pick for the Boston.com Book Club will be “Mercy Street” by Jennifer Haigh. The novel, which debuted on Feb. 1., is Haigh’s first novel in six years, and deals with the continuously hot button topic of women’s reproductive rights. Set chiefly in and around the fictionally titled Mercy Street women’s health clinic in the heart of Boston, right by Boston Common.
The novel marks a return to Boston in setting for Haigh. Her 2008 novel “The Condition” was set on Cape Cod, and her 2011 novel “Faith” was set in suburban Boston, so Haigh is no stranger to writing about our fair region. They tend to ring true as well, because while Haigh grew up in Pennsylvania, she lives here now. And we’re lucky to have her, as her books have won the PEN/Hemingway Award, the Massachusetts Book Award, and she is a Guggenheim Foundation Fellow.
While abortion has been back in the news recently thanks to cases tried before the Supreme Court, “Mercy Street” is not set in 2022, but rather in 2015. And it’s a tense environment for main character Claudia, who has worked at the clinic for nine years, and can only cope with the anonymous threats and protestors outside the building with frequent trips to her weed dealer, Timmy. One of Timmy’s other customers, Anthony, has been talking a lot online with an anti-abortion crusader.
It’s an explosive premise, and one for those who traffic in literary fiction have had circled on their calendars for a while because rather than reveling in the destruction that looms just a chapter away, Haigh focuses on what makes the characters on both sides of the ideological spectrum human. Fellow New England novelist Richard Russo says of the characters in “Mercy Street,” “[Haigh is] paying close attention to their choices, large and small. That’s not artifice, it’s art. And I was gobsmacked.” In The New York Times review of “Mercy Street,” Janet Maslin writes, “Abortion, guns, vigilantism, drug dealing, white supremacy, bitter misogyny and online fetishism all figure in the tableau Haigh expertly details.” Novelist Rebecca Makkai echoes both, saying “‘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.”
Joining Haigh for our live virtual event will be Casey Gerken, the owner and operator of Innisfree Bookshop in Meredith, N.H. Located on the Daniel Webster Highway on the western shores of Lake Winnipesaukee, Innisfree is open year round, but especially busy during the summer months, when tourists descend on the lake for a summer of sun and adventure. Or, you know, reading on a lakefront porch.
After working there for four years in a variety of roles, Gerken purchased the store in 2017 and hasn’t looked back. In addition to her duties as a bookstore owner, Gerken has also served on the board for the New England Independent Booksellers Association (NEIBA) since fall 2020.
Be sure to join Haigh and Gerken on Wednesday, March 23rd at 6 p.m.! Register here.
Boston.com Book Club picks:
- “Full Dissidence” by Howard Bryant
- “The Shame” by Makenna Goodman
- “We Ride Upon Sticks” by Quan Barry
- “The Cousins” by Karen M. McManus
- “Riot Baby” by Tochi Onyebuchi
- “Fat Chance, Charlie Vega” by Crystal Maldonado
- “Things That Grow” by Meredith Goldstein
- “The Secret to Superhuman Strength” by Alison Bechdel
- “The Northern Reach” by W.S. Winslow
- “Summer on the Bluffs” by Sunny Hostin
- “Something Wild” by Hanna Halperin
- “The First to Lie” and “Her Perfect Life” by Hank Phillippi Ryan
- “It’s Better to Be Feared” by Seth Wickersham
- “Travels With George: In Search of Washington and His Legacy” by Nathaniel Philbrick
- “Woodrow on the Bench” by Jenna Blum
- “Yonder” by Jabari Asim
- “Thank You, Mr. Nixon” by Gish Jen