Mercy Street
by Haigh, Jennifer

As anti-abortion protests intensify, Claudia, a counselor at the Mercy Street clinic, is in a constant state of fear and turns to an affable pot dealer through whom she meets a random assortment of customers, one of whom may unwittingly bring about the destruction of the clinic. 100,000 first printing.

Claudia has worked at the Mercy Street clinic in Boston for years. As the daughter of a teen mom, she never knew her father beyond the mysterious force behind the Christmas packages that arrived at their trailer. Now she's learned the specifics of clinic work, like how the hotline is busiest on Mondays with the consequences of the weekend's events. She's nicknamed the one anti-abortion protestor who shows up every day "Puffy," for his down coat. And she hasn't slept through the night since the mandatory training on what to do if a shooter hides in the building. As it is, there's a different type of shooter that will soon concern her, Anthony, who's been photographing women entering the clinic for a man he knows only as Excelsior11 to post online in a Hall of Shame. Victor, the man behind the screen name, immediately becomes obsessed with Claudia and harangues Anthony for more photos. Haigh's multifaceted storytelling deftly weaves a tangled web that includes Claudia's pot dealer, as each character strives to find meaning in his or her life. Copyright 2021 Booklist Reviews.

Having addressed fracking in Heat and Light (2016), Haigh now tackles abortion in a polemical novel that revolves around a Boston women's clinic. Divorced and childless, 43-year-old Claudia is an abortion counselor at Mercy Street, a clinic in a gentrified area of Boston once known as the Combat Zone. As the daughter of an impoverished single teenage mother, she well understands "the stark daily realities that made motherhood impossible" for many of her clients. After nine years, Claudia is a pro at taking care of the patients while ignoring the protestors who gather outside the clinic every morning. Still, the stresses of the job get to her (the women with late-term pregnancies "cracked her open"), so periodically Claudia seeks relief from her pot dealer, Timmy. Also dropping in to make a buy is Anthony, a lonely incel living off disability insurance in his mother's basement. Anthony spends his days attending Mass, protesting at Mercy Street, and emailing photos of women going into the clinic to an anti-abortion crusader with the screen name of Excelsior11, who's actually a Vietnam vet and former long-haul trucker named Victor Prine. During the winter of 2015, these four characters, whose social isolation keeps them as frozen as Boston's stormy weather, will find their lives intersecting and transformed, not always for the better. 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. Copyright Kirkus 2021 Kirkus/BPI Communications. All rights reserved.

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