Wednesday, April 25, 2012

The Mercury Fountain by Eliza Factor

I got this book through LibraryThing Early Reviewers and here is my review

Book Summary (from the book’s side flip) 

The Mercury Fountain takes place at the turn of the twentieth century in a remote and beautiful stretch of the Chihuahuan desert near the border of West Texas and Mexico. Rich with mercury, the desert attracts a visionary northeastern, Owen Scraperton, who settles in the southern wilderness to establish a utopian community called Pristina. Owen quickly finds in mercury the economic foundation for his new world. The metal’s hypnotic beauty and fluidity are perfect emblems for his social theories, and his sincere heart and rich voice attract a heterogeneous mix of followers who join him in disregarding the metal’s more harmful qualities.

A dark cloud gathers over Pristina after Owen’s marriage to Dolores, a Mexican beauty from an impoverished aristocratic family. She had thought she was marrying an American millionaire who would help her escape the desert, but instead finds herself cut off from the advancing civilization she yearns to join. As the mercury market bottoms out, Dolores musters enough courage for an act of defiance against Owen that divides the community’s allegiances.

Emerging into this combustible mix is their only child, Victoria, a remarkably talented girl who inherits her father romanticism and her mother’s independence. Owen grooms Victoria to be the inheritor of Pristina, a role she embraces with zest and earnestness. However, as age, love, and experience cause Owen to modify his original vision, Victoria remains true to Pristina’s founding principles –setting them up for a major conflict that captures the imagination of the entire town.

My Review

The book basically follows Victoria’s life, since it begins with her birth. We have the three main characters, Victoria, Owen and Dolores, but there are important secondary characters such as Ysidro and Badinoe. 

The book, as I mentioned, starts with Victoria’s birth, Owen is utterly exited but Dolores goes through a slight post-partum depression. On the other hand, Ysidro, a young boy who dreams to start working in the mines has his first encounter with the shafts, when he is looking for Owen to deliver the news of Dolores starting labor. This encounter will mark the rest of his life and will dictate the road that he takes. Also, we are introduced to the town’s doctor, Badinoe, who seems gloomy and determined to demonstrate to Owen the dangers of mercury poison.

From the beginning the book is well written, with an easy to follow language (not over the top mine terminology), and a nice rhythm. However, I didn’t find myself yearning to continue reading, which is way it took me 2 weeks to finish the book.  I think the books is properly researched too, the references to Roman gods, different aspects of the town at the time described, etc, where beautifully described. I have to say though, (**SPOILER**) that the tongue cast that Victoria has at a certain moment, is just not plausible, for she would not be aspirate with an immobilized tongue, let alone swallow (**END OF SPOILER**).  

The big minus for me in this book, is the fact that a lot of situations where introduced and were either never resolved, or appear there to explain another happening, but I found them to be unnecessary. Example of the first is the mercury poisoning Badinoe was pushing in the first pages…then it gets lost, I thought we would get cases of serious mercury poisoning and Owen’s problem with it, but no. For the second, I come back to Victoria’s accident…I just didn’t get the need for this moment of the story, unless it was to introduce the serpents in the story, in which case, I still find the accident unnecessary. 

I liked the way the story fuses with the war, how it touches segregation and different cultural positions considered normal for the time, and the idea of a pristine community (hence the name Pristina) and the precepts established by Owen. But a little bit more of Owen’s past would’ve made it easier to understand why he dreamed of this society. 

On a personal note I did not enjoy the throwing of Spanish words here and there. I assume the reason is the fact that we the story takes place in the border with Mexico, but as a Hispanic person, I can tell you that I do not go around throwing Spanish words in my English or French conversations, unless I can’t find the word. But as I mentioned, that is more personal. It also bothers me when the Hispanic character in a movie speaks perfect English but can only say “Por favor”, because apparently he never learned how to say “Please”.

Anyway, back to the book. I think Ms. Factor should be very proud of her first novel, it was well presented, very well written, and the story had a lot of potential. I think she still has to find that extra that forces you to continue reading, even though is 3 am, but I believe she will find it with a little bit of time.

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