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Authors: Brad Watson

The Heaven of Mercury

BOOK: The Heaven of Mercury
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Praise for Brad Watson's
The Heaven of Mercury


“Extraordinary…. Mixes whimsy and hard truth in a way that's heartbreaking…. Pungently erotic, and as affectionate as it is acidic…a perfect modern southern gothic.”

—Mark Rozzo,
Los Angeles Times Book Review

“An intensity reminiscent of Faulkner, a bleak humor that recalls Flannery O'Connor, a whimsy inspired by Eudora Welty and a spontaneity suggesting prime Barry Hannah…. Reading
The Heaven of Mercury
certainly restores one's faith in Southern literature's ability to startle and surprise…the risks pay off with insightful observations, dynamic relationships and scenes that crackle with tension and possibility.”

Memphis Commercial Appeal

“[A] lushly written novel of Deep Southern dream and landscape.”

—Richard Eder,
New York Times

“A vivid mythology of a small Southern town that moves to a strange, electrifying beat. Think of it as an Irish blues…as something that goes beyond the literal—and way beyond the pale of most contemporary Southern fiction.”

Atlanta Journal-Constitution

“Sort of a calm wail. Each page a deep pleasure. A book at life's pace yet somehow without any of its tedium. Only the Irish geniuses wrote like this.”

—Barry Hannah, author of
, and
Yonder Stands Your Orphan

The Heaven of Mercury
possesses as sharp an ear for Southern speech, both black and white, as any novel published in the last 30 years…. A superb novel, graced with lush and exciting prose in the Southern high rhetorical tradition.”

Raleigh News and Observer

“A rich history of Southern literature just became richer with Watson's first novel…. Moving and mystical. Watson…moves deftly between now and then, and occasionally between now and the hereafter, to map new literary territory.”

Orlando Sentinel

“Death, sex, supernatural spells, and bad marriages are among the essential elements for a Southern Gothic novel. But like the masterpieces penned by the writers who developed this celebrated literary tradition, Brad Watson's first novel,
The Heaven of Mercury
, feels anything but formulaic…. Watson's simple, compelling prose…resonates with emotion.”

—Liza Weisstuch,
Boston Globe

“As mythic and miraculous as Faulkner and Marquez. Amazingly original, and a sublime delight for the lucky readers who get their hands on it. A novel so fine you don't want it to ever end.”

—Larry Brown, author of
Father and Son

“Thrillingly ambitious…. Watson does not merely invoke Faulkner and García Márquez, but seems at times to speak straight through them.”


The Heaven of Mercury
reads like the love between its two principal characters. The story is ethereal yet comforting, intangible but somehow permanent. It has the necessary components of love, anguish and magic, and it incorporates the dramatic and the unreal. Watson imbues his work with an elegance that sets it apart from the rest.”

Boston Herald

“Watson has written a novel at once intimate and epic, magical and real—a dazzling Southern gothic in which love and hate claim equal hold on the human heart…. Slipping easily between heaven and earth, between fanciful dreams and waking nightmares, Watson has given us a bravura performance.
The Heaven of Mercury
is an astonishing novel, one that burns with passion, color, and breathtaking prose—one that cements Brad Watson's place among our great American writers of fiction.”

Jackson Advocate

“The Southern novel, with its ear for the music of words and its delight in off-kilter characters, returns with gale force in the pages of this sparkling debut…. Watson tracks decades in the small town of Mercury, Miss. (based upon his hometown of Meridian), spinning indelible tales and characters with magic, poetry, empathy and sour mash.”

—John Marshall,
Seattle Post-Intelligencer

“The best thing to come out of the South since
A Confederacy of Dunces
. I haven't seen or heard such an eloquent flow of just-right words since Odysseus was caught lying to Athena.”

—Gregory Rabassa, professor at Queens College, City University of New York, and translator of Gabriel García Márquez's
One Hundred Years of Solitude
and other novels

“A fast-paced, myth-echoing, tragic-comic commentary on our modern lives.”


“A strangely beautiful book that resonates with echoes of William Faulkner and Flannery O'Connor, with mythic touches of Gabriel García Márquez thrown in here and there…. Watson's writing is lush, earthy, drenched in atmospheric detail…. A strange novel, this one—strange and uncommonly fine.”

Charlotte Observer

“Seamless…superb…. Southern storytelling is alive and well in Watson's capable hands.”

Kirkus Reviews
, starred review

“Finely wrought…. Ruefully romantic.”


The Heaven of Mercury
is a tragicomic story of missed opportunities and unjust necessities that wittily explores the souls of its highly colorful cast of characters. It is suffused with an almost savage lyricism that illumines every accurate detail and nuance of place and speech. The light this novel casts is so brilliant it makes even its own shadows luminous. Brad Watson has struck a fresh and thrilling note.”

—Fred Chappell, author of
Look Back All the Green Valley

“Gimcrack storytelling…grounded by generous humanity.”

Entertainment Weekly

“Watson's keen eye for the human condition alone makes
The Heaven of Mercury
a worthwhile read, and you may find yourself accruing a particular type of knowledge that not even Faulkner could impart.”

Literal Latte

“What a delectable treat this novel is, on every level. Large-spirited, raucous, darkly comic and comedically dark, and above all, just plain fun, this fable will stay with me the way personal experience stays with me—a wondrous elaboration on the theme of love.”

—Richard Bausch, author of
Someone to Watch over Me

“Lovely, poignant, funny first novel, a book filled with fascinating, unpredictable, original characters…. Watson has a Faulkneresque understanding of human nature in the employ of an earthy, lively prose style that limns his characters with nuanced sympathy and wit….
The Heaven of Mercury
finally is about love and loss, grief and remembrance, rage and caring. In other words, about the business of living, a subject on which Watson is well worth hearing.”

The State
(Columbia, S.C.)

“How thoroughly Brad Watson understands that emotions have no expiry date and how elegantly he writes about them. Vividly peopled, full of surprises,
The Heaven of Mercury
is a deeply satisfying novel.”

—Margot Livesey, author of
Eva Moves the Furniture

“[A]n unforgettable story…. The accidents, the disappointments, the corrections, and the secrets each life contains are woven into a deeply sympathetic portrait of small town life at its worst and best.”

Nashville Advocate


Last Days of the Dog-Men


a novel


W. W. Norton & Company
New York

For Mimi, Sissy, Velma, and WEW,
bless their sweet, conflicted hearts.

Copyright © 2002 by Brad Watson

All rights reserved
First published as a Norton 2003

For information about permission to reproduce selections from this book, write to Permissions, W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 500 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10110

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Watson, Brad.
The heaven of Mercury / by Brad Watson.
p. cm.
ISBN: 978-0-393-32465-5
1. City and town life—Fiction. 2. Mississippi—Fiction. I. Title.
PS3573.A8475 H43 2002                                                      2002023103

W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 500 Fifth Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10110

W. W. Norton & Company Ltd., Castle House, 75/76 Wells Street, London W1T 3QT


thank the following people and institutions: the Seaside Institute, for a month at Seaside, Florida, where I began this book and had a wonderful time; the American Academy of Arts and Letters; the Great Lakes Colleges Association; the Department of English and American Literature and Language at Harvard University; the Department of English at the University of Alabama; Jack Shank, for his three-volume history of Meridian, Mississippi, which was valuable for facts and information; the staff at the Foley Public Library, for help finding documents about early Baldwin County history; my students, for reminding me of what's important. For reading manuscripts and offering wise advice and encouragement, my enduring gratitude to Helen Vendler, Julie Anne McNary, Kim O'Neil, Karl Iagnemma, Sam Shaw, and Nell Hanley; thanks to David Gessner for urging me to get on with it. Other friends who lent support and encouragement are too numerous to name here, but I am grateful for their many kindnesses. I once again thank the members of my families—Collins, Watson, and Nordberg—for their patience, love, and support, especially Jeanine for infinite patience in addition to the rest. Thanks to Peter Steinberg, of JCA Literary Agency, for sound advice and advocacy. Finally, I'd like to thank Stefanie Diaz, Bill Rusin, Carolyn Sawyer, Ashley Barnes, and everyone else at W. W. Norton & Company; most especially I'd like to thank my editor, Alane Salierno Mason,
sine qua non

Although the town of Mercury, Mississippi, in this book bears some resemblance to my hometown, Meridian, I have taken many liberties with regard to historical, geographical, demographic, and other facts. Meridian, Mississippi, is farther from the Gulf coast, is more populous, prosperous, and demographically diverse than the town represented here as Mercury. In a few cases I have used the names of real places as they stand or stood in Meridian, or referred to real historical incidents, but their use here is not meant to represent the facts about them any more or less realistically than they might be represented in an actual dream.

BOOK: The Heaven of Mercury
13.7Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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