Mercury by Amy Jo Burns
1/2/24; 336 pages
Mercury by Amy Jo Burns is a very highly recommended character driven drama that considers the dynamics of a dysfunctional family.
The first thing seventeen-year-old Marley West sees when she and her mother move to Mercury, Pennsylvania in 1990 are the Joseph's on a rooftop so it seems she was meant to become a part of their world. The Joseph and Sons roofing company is headed by father Mick, with the oldest two sons, Baylor and Waylon. Baby Shay is much younger than the older two. Their mother, Elise, serves a home cooked meal to all of them nightly.
Marley first meets oldest brother, Bay, and is invited to dinner.
Dinner at the Joseph house becomes a daily occurrence, one Marley looks
forward too. Marley ends up in a relationship with Way, becomes
pregnant, and the two marry, moving into a tiny apartment in the Josephs
large house. Marley soon realizes that the family's finances are a mess
and she begins to help Way find more roofing jobs for the family. She
also craves Elise's love, but the matriarch of the family, who has her
reasons, remains cold and distant - until she needs Marley's help.
This is a character driven drama and Burns does an exceptional job capturing the strengths, flaws, and secrets in her fully realized characters. These are all damaged people in some way, certain characters more than others. There is insight into each member of the family, helping to show the origin of their pain and the impetus for their differing temperaments. The care taken with each character is what helps propel Mercury to a memorable novel.
The quality of the writing is excellent in this multi-generational family drama. The action covers a decade in their lives. Mercury opens in 1999 when a gruesome discovery is made, and then jumps back in time to 1990 when Marley first met the Josephs and became part of their lives. The narrative then marches through time and the interpersonal troubles in the family that preceded the opening discovery. There is plenty of drama and secrets in the plot to hold your attention throughout, although after the opening discovery the pace does slow down for a stretch before picking up again. 4.5 rounded up