“Mercury,” by Amy Jo Burns, is a novel about family—family in every aspect of the word: its dramas, secrets, loyalties and relationships. The book is set in 1990. Marley West and her mother have just moved again, this time to the small river valley town of Mercury, Pennsylvania. Marley has always been a loner and just wants to be part of a family, to love and be loved.
Upon arrival in Mercury, Marley meets the Joseph family. Elise and Mick Joseph have three sons and own their own roofing business. Marley begins dating the oldest son, Baylor, who is a bit of a hot head and full of himself. Soon Marley is eating dinner at the Joseph house every night and Elise is thrilled for the female companionship.
When things end with Baylor, Marley realizes that the second son, Waylon, has become her best friend. They soon fall in love, marry, and have a child. When Marley and Waylon move into the Joseph house, as husband and wife, things begin to change.
The Joseph’s third son, Shay, depends on Marley to be his parent, since neither Elise or Mick are up to it. Elise distances herself from everyone and is acting strange. Marley learns that Mick is using the business assets to fund his own personal desires. Marley takes it upon herself to fix all of these problems and keep the business afloat. She also worries that her husband Waylon’s loyalty to his family may outweigh his loyalty to her.
The book starts at a slow pace as the characters are introduced and readers receive a surface understanding of each. But as the story continues, we get a much deeper understanding of each of the characters which changes our opinions of some of them. We come to realize how complicated and dysfunctional the Joseph family dynamics are. We also learn about their innermost thoughts as a number of secrets are revealed.
“Mercury” is a character-driven novel. Its characters are all well developed and become very real and relatable. They will stay with you long after you finish the book.