Jennifer Haigh: Mercy Street

Jennifer Haigh’s novel aims to provide different perspectives on abortion; therefore, the book includes many characters. I could not keep all the stories straight. Claudia is the only character that I could follow. Haigh’s writing is excellent though. I love her take on white trash:

She can still remember the first time she heard the term white trash. She was nine or ten years old, watching a stand-up comic on television, and she understood immediately that he was talking about people like her. Her family drank cola with dinner, store brand. They ate off paper plates as if each meal were a picnic. This was not a whimsical habit, but a practical one: her mother sometimes couldn’t pay the water bill, and for a few weeks each year, there’d be nothing to wash dishes in. The per plates came in cheap hundred-packs and were so flimsy they used two or three at a time, and as a result they produced vast amounts of garbage. Behind the trailer, under a carport of corrugated plastic, their trash barrels overflowed with it. In summer the smell was overpowering: soggy paper plates and food scraps rotting in the can. As a family they were both an environmental catastrophe and a sanitary one, as poor people often are.

When Claudia heard the words white trash, that is what she thought.

I wish the storytelling was simpler and straightforward.