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The Heaven of Mercury
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The Heaven of Mercury

3.6 of 5 stars 3.60  ·  rating details  ·  360 ratings  ·  43 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. He's loved her for some eighty years: through their marriages to other people, through the mysterious early death of Birdie's womanizing husband. Earl, and through all the poisonous accusations against Birdie b ...more
Hardcover, 288 pages
Published August 1st 2002 by W. W. Norton & Company (first published January 1st 2002)
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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
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

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
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.
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
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.
Harvey Tordoff
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
Jeff Newberry
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
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
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
Dec 15, 2014 Alan rated it 4 of 5 stars
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 01, 2014 Paul rated it 5 of 5 stars
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
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
Miranda Prather
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.
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. .
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.
Watson follows a group of characters through their lives in a fictional Mississippi town...and while the premise may not seem original, the style and nuances of Watson's writing are phenomenal. He balances the tone of the book somewhere between quiet despair and smirking black comedy. I enjoyed this book and I want Watson to write another novel so I can enjoy it, too.
Claudia f. Savage
Big, gothic Southern goodness. Brad Watson, as usual, delivers the unexpected with sentences so long and vivid, you feel like you've stepped into a lake of purple fire. Wonderful! I adored his short story collection (Last Days of the Dog-Men)and anxiously read this book. He is funny, freaky, and renders the South with truth, even the hard-to-swallow parts.
May 22, 2007 Kathryn rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Fans of Southern Gothic and Garcia Marquez
Really beautiful book (and shortlisted for the National Book Award) It reminded me very much of Love in the Time of Cholera AND 100 Years of Solitude, though shorter and not quite as grand in scope, and set in rural Mississippi.
Apr 09, 2010 Jimmy added it
Something mysterious and beautiful about this one. The obituaries are incredible. As in, there's this one obituary (spoiler! just kidding) that's just about everything. I'm a little heartbroke.
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.
Lovely. It took me a while to get into it, but then I was hooked. I couldn't wait to get back to it every night. Some of the characters do despicable things, but all ring real and true.
Oct 06, 2010 Aline rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: everybody
Recommended to Aline by: my mum
It reminds me of "A hundred Years oF Solitude". This story has got so much characters in it, their lives mixed up together! This is just like García Márquez's way of writing!
Dante Puleio
started ok but somewhere in the middle it turned into this weird astral plane thing with lots of obituaries. wasn't horrible and had its moments but overall, a little boring
Kind of a Southern Gothic...enjoyed the setting, characters, and the central story. The creepy undertaker guy was a bit much though.
wanted to get through it, had pretty good reviews, but took me a long time. good story but not my style..
a rich mood of a somewhat passive Southern culture - overwritten in places, but a stylish, honest writer
I couldn't finish this book, which is very unusual for me. I found it boring and uninteresting.
Not an easy read due to the literary style, but it was a great book about life and death.
Todd Johnson
A new Southern author for me, although by no means new to many readers. I loved this work.
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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. His new short story collection, Aliens in the Prime of their Lives, will be published by Norton &a ...more
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