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The Heaven of Mercury

3.61  ·  Rating Details ·  477 Ratings  ·  62 Reviews
Finus Bates has loved chatty, elegant Birdie Wells ever since he saw her cartwheel naked through the woods near the backwater town of Mercury, Mississippi, in 1917. Having “caught hold of some loose line in her that would attach itself to stray wildness” and never let go, he’s loved her for some eighty years: through their marriages to other people, through the mysterious ...more
Hardcover, 288 pages
Published July 31st 2002 by W. W. Norton (first published January 1st 2002)
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Scott Axsom
Aug 13, 2016 Scott Axsom rated it it was amazing
Brad Watson’s The Heaven of Mercury is simply a gorgeous undertaking beautifully executed. The story can't be shoe-horned into a style type though his writing is certainly southern, with atmospherics on a par with any of the other great southern writers. But there is also a profoundly metaphysical aspect to this telling. The story is, at heart, a provocative exploration of the spirit.

The first half of the novel is a fairly straightforward (though nonlinear) look at the lives of a handful of fin
Katie Schmid
May 29, 2010 Katie Schmid rated it really liked it
Brad Watson, National Book Award finalist and my professor, wrote the hell out of this. It's lovely in the ranging, lolling quality of the prose--how everything is infused with the characters' bewilderment and sadness. It's great. It will make you want to go to the beach and eat boiled shrimp. It will make you want to write the shit out of your childhood memories, infusing all of them unabashedly with the longing your adult self has for a few particular happy younger moments, when your own child ...more
Lisa Roney
Feb 09, 2013 Lisa Roney rated it it was amazing
What a terrific book. Watson has been compared to a diverse array of southern writers, but I think the reason he's been compared to writers as different as Faulkner and O'Connor is that, really, he's not like any of them. This book is also hard to describe in any way that makes sense or doesn't make it sound less than it is, and so I think people grasp at comparisons.

The Mercury of the title is a town, and several of the townspeople feature in the story, but the main gist involves two of them--B
Nov 20, 2015 Robert rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
Listen up: One of the best novels I've ever read. It might be the best Southern Gothic novel ever. No kidding. Why it took me so long to find this book, I have no idea--but Watson is one of America's most talented writers. Long been a fan of his short fiction. I loved every goddamn sentence of this book.
Jul 14, 2014 Renee rated it it was ok
Brad Watson's town of Mercury is delightful. His vivid description of this laid back southern landscape lures his readers in. Unfortunately, however, his character narration and the insertion of obsessed sexual macabre dabbled throughout the book left this reader repulsed. What could have been something beautiful was distasteful (I would have rated it one star higher if that was eliminated). The toying of his characters left me baffled, dismayed and confused. Timelines were CRAZY! Characters wer ...more
Aug 27, 2007 Nancy rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I am not the target audience for these sprawling, epic, multi-generational novels that get by with quirky characters, an evocative locale, and always feature a tragic story of lost love and some suppressed sexual abuse. I need an actual plot. For those of you who need only references to a turn-of-the-century hurricane and a little light necrophilia, help yourselves.
Aug 30, 2016 Ray rated it it was amazing
Gracious, I’m awarding so many stars for a book I almost put down about two-thirds of the way through. What gives? Watson’s story about small Mercury, MS, beginning at the turn of the 20th century and covering up to mid-century, has characters that thoroughly engaged me within the first few pages. The town’s long-time resident “Mercury” and story protagonist is local reporter/editor Finus Bates, a character who brings the reader insights and ironies about life and all the pain that comes with lo ...more
Brenda Shelly
This book (which made Watson a finalist for the National Book Award) is jam-packed with fabulous dysfunction. Four examples right out of the gate. 1) Underlying everything, the freakishly enthusiastic radio personality and obituary-writer Finus has abiding and exhaustive adoration for the dismissive Birdie. I don’t know what he sees in her. 2) Since a shocking coming-of-age preadolescent experience, Mercury’s pitiable mortician Parnell is a delicate and tortured soul. Yet somehow he manages (rat ...more
Jun 19, 2016 LeAnne added it
So strange...I looked at the list of upcoming authors that'll be at the 2016 Mississippi Book Fest and saw the name of the author and this particular book of his. Wow - rang a bell. Turns out, I read about 3/4 of this a couple years ago, then mislaid the book! At the time, it reminded me a good deal of Love in the Time of Cholera - which, yeah, is totally NOT in this genre....but its main characters are a man who falls deeply in love with a woman and waits decades for her, waits until death is k ...more

Love the characters, especially Aunt Vish and Creasie. I like the structure, the way each chapter moves from one character to the next. You might expect the chapters to be "loosely connected," but Watson's deft skill at threading them together tightens the connections in a clear way. The novel is funny and dark, but I thought the latent necrophilia of Parnell Grimes, for example, was treated in an appropriate manner: Parnell is revealed to be a sympathetic character in spite of his experiment a
May 06, 2012 Celeste rated it liked it
It is not often you read a novel with an undertaker, a show salesman and an obituary writer as some of the main characters! This is a strange story about the life of several people in a small coastal town in Mississippi. The author captures the pace of small town life and the pattern of speech for Southerners very well. The voices of the main characters come through vividly. there really isn't a strong message here - just a visit from some old acquaintances. Well written.
Aug 01, 2015 Cheryl rated it really liked it
I had this book on my shelf for years. So glad I finally decided to read it. This to me is literature. It is lyrical, poetic, all those adjectives other reviewers have said. I loved Finus, imperfect as he was. I loved the sense of place. I have actually visited briefly Meridian, the town on which this was based, I imagine myself at the gulf coast, storms raging. Wow - I have to give this book to someone else to read, so we can discuss it. It's a book I will remember.
Aug 09, 2016 Fay rated it really liked it
Shelves: dismissed-books
A Faulkner fan will really enjoy this book.
To be honest I find Faulkner quite difficult so for me it was tough going but worthy of persistence.
Shirley Lucas
The first part of the book was true southern story telling. Kept my interest and was easy to follow.However, the last part of the book was dry, boring, hard to follow, and I was glad to finish it.
Jul 16, 2012 Irene rated it it was ok
Shelves: 2012
I thought this would never end...
Mar 14, 2010 William rated it it was ok
I liked parts of it, but it seemed disjointed and needed more character development.
Nov 20, 2016 Elizabeth rated it it was amazing
Such deep sense of place and of character, such a love for his characters and a remembrance of what it is to be a child and what it is to be old. The thin veil between this world and the next, the way that life is made up of the almosts, the things we couldnt bear to say and didnt, the hope and disappointments that gather over time. Loved it, can you tell?
Jan 17, 2016 Holly rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Finus falls in love with Birdie after seeing her cartwheel naked in the forest when they were children. As is common with childhood love, both grow up to marry someone else. This book is their stories, taking the reader from 1917 to the nineties.

Much has been written about this book as a Southern novel. Southern writers include Flannery O'Connor, Faulkner, Welty, McCarthy, Anne Tyler. This novel has elements of Southern gothic, which Wiki defines as containing, "deeply flawed, disturbing or ecce
Feb 17, 2017 Marvin rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
What a strange, delightful novel. Follows some characters, more or less, from childhood in early-20th Century Mississippi to old age, and maybe a little beyond, near the end of the Century. Not quite a love story, not quite a family saga, not quite about the town, not quite a mystery, hits all around a multitude of themes and threads in drawing up a big, grand picture.
Harvey Tordoff
Jul 29, 2014 Harvey Tordoff rated it liked it
Mercury is one of those towns in the Deep South where nothing much happens, and so the ordinary lives and loves, failings and foibles of its citizens are thrown into stark relief. If this is what a writer chooses to write about, and in the absence of world-shaking events, he needs to engage his readers with interesting characters and an authentic style of writing.

The characters here are interesting, bordering on the quirky. It's difficult for a northern Englishman to judge the authenticity of th
Jul 19, 2012 Joey rated it really liked it
Things I generally don't like:

--Contemporary Southern authors who seem to consciously mine Faulkner in writing about the south
--Contemporary writers those who explore the racial tensions of the 20th century Deep South.
--Writing about the afterlife and the communion of the living and the dead.
--Prose that lends itself to being called "lyrical."

Things Brad Watson does very well in this novel:

--Mine Faulkner, Flannery, Ms. Welty, et al.
--Explore pre-and-post Civil Rights era race relations in
Kylin Larsson
This is a novel that explores a dying town's relationship with death via a handful of characters. Peopled with the elderly and mostly narrated by an obituary writer, this is one of those odd books that I didn't really like but couldn't seem to put down. This is a good example of southern fiction (though I disagree with critics who compare his writing to Faulkner and O'Connor -- his sentences can be long, lovely poems but plotting is not strong enough to maintain a beginning, middle, and end nove ...more
Oct 23, 2014 Alan rated it really liked it
Shelves: novels
well I was currently reading, but my wife has borrowed, so I'll get back to it soon..
..back reading it now.. read.. review coming..

sort of review: a beautiful book, spoiled slightly by long-windedness and repetition. A generation span novel set in the coastal South of the USA taking in most of the twentieth century. The characters are good: vain, angry, delightful, stupid, clever, love-struck, selfish: everyone seems real. Some a re very quirky (or downright strange when it comes to some of them
Feb 18, 2008 Melinda rated it liked it
I picked up this 2002 National Book Award finalist at my local Dollar Tree for 99 cents. What a steal!

Anyway, The Heaven of Mercury leads the reader down into a South dark and strange. Told from the perspective of several characters, the story swirls around in time, following the current of memory, taking the reader to a South that is otherworldly. Death and love are the main themes, reflected upon by the main character, 90 year old Finus Bates, with vivid, sometimes shocking revelations of huma
Jeff Newberry
May 21, 2014 Jeff Newberry rated it it was amazing
A gorgeous, lush, lyrical novel, THE HEAVEN OF MERCURY is ostensibly the story of Finus Bates and his life-long love of Birdie Wells, whom he's loved since he was merely twelve years old and chanced to see her do a naked cartwheel. But more than that, this is the story of the tiny town of Mercury, Alabama, and the generations that pass through it. It's a lovely and poetic read. The final chapter alone is like one long prose poem. Watson is a southern writer in the vein of Faulkner and Welty, a s ...more
May 15, 2011 Didi rated it really liked it
I actually finished this book awhile ago and I really enjoyed it.

It has a hazy dreamy quality with an atmosphere as thick as molasses with ghosts and regret and the hard truth of living. You kind of drift through the pages as the character's lives unfold; through whimsy and bitterness, desire and regret. It doesn't mince words and offers an unvarnished glimpse of the relationship between life and death and transcending all that regret and bitterness inbetween.

Brad Watson writes beautifully. .
Jan 17, 2014 Paul rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2014
Good God. This thing was epic. Just over 300p and still Watson fits an entire universe in here. There are bits of wisdom in here that are kind of flooring. Sure, it's Faulkneresque but it's not that difficult. Very southern. Traces the life of one character in particular, from birth to (no spoilers), though not in any particularly linear order, with a bunch of other characters along the way, who also get a great deal of attention. Just perfectly balanced, writing itself is good if not mind-bendi ...more
May 01, 2011 Gregory rated it it was amazing
I fell in love with each page of this book--Watson's language is musical prose. Barry Hannah meets Winesburg, Ohio, with a dash of Southern Gothic thrown in. For those that complain that the prose is quite dense, and the plot loosely threads though several decades, Finus, the town's obituary-writer and main protagonist, sums it up best: "you couldn't convince a body anymore that there was integrity in the use of the language."

p.s. Watson's young beard is just awesome.
Miranda Prather
Jan 21, 2015 Miranda Prather rated it liked it
The stories contained in the book were intriguing and I really wanted to love this book, but the form here made that impossible. I am a fan of Faulkner, who I know others have said is a difficult read, but I never had that much difficulty following his works, as I did this one by Watson. The lack of dialogue formatting made it a chore to work through where speaking began and ended and other areas ran together without much thought to their affect on readers.
Amy Christenson
Apr 03, 2015 Amy Christenson rated it really liked it
I read this as part of an exploration into what exactly 'southern gothic' is. Thus far I've learned that on the surface it means vivid, somewhat miserable characters living in hot climates. The characters here in Mercury, Mississippi wield influence, power and pain (love, too) in both this life and the next. They're certainly not all bad, but they are all complicated and struggling and their stories intertwine in the same way.

Looking forward to reading more from author Brad Watson.

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Brad Watson teaches creative writing at the University of Wyoming, Laramie. His first collection, Last Days of the Dog-Men, won the Sue Kauffman Award for First Fiction from the American Academy of Arts & Letters; his first novel, The Heaven of Mercury, was a finalist for the National Book Award, and his Aliens in the Prime of Their Lives was a finalist for the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction.
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“Birdie's two front teeth were gapped, which gave him a strange stirring in his heart. But she was no more claimable then for sappy loving sentiment than she ever would be, and would always deflect his attempts to moon...She had a face, it seemed to him, that was unreal somehow, as perfectly unreal as a doll's yet with the capacity to open, become human in an instant, and suck him in unawares...she would turn her eyes to him and before he could gather his far-flung self again she had drawn him into her like some stronger, brighter heavenly body. He was possessed, almost, something essential in him trapped in her, trapped but not entirely uncomfortable. He could never quite reconcile her real presence with what her presence suggested to him, and it kept him not only enchanted but also confused in some deep sense he couldn't grasp.” 0 likes
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