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Secrets, lies and obsessions govern each character and lead to misfortune.

Mercury: A Novel - Margot Livesey

Mercury, Margot Livesey, author; Derek Perkins, Nicol Zanzarella, narrators

This book was about a host of characters that never seemed to grow up. Even when they became adults and parents, they reverted to childish behavior, using outright lies and lies of omission, secrets, and excuses to avoid responsibility for their irresponsible behavior, in order to satisfy their own wishes. Often, they had no regard for the outcomes, never even thinking about what they might be. Self-serving would be an accurate description of most of them; selfish would be an accurate description of the rest. They seemed to be frequently disappointed with something that had affected their lives and had a difficult time adjusting to most situations with grace.
Donald opened the narrative by revealing his background, first in Scotland and later on in Massachusetts. Employment moved his parents from Europe to America, and after some years of traveling back and forth, they decided to remain. Don had a very close friend, Robert, but unable to cope with the idea of the move and separation from his friend, he left his letters unread and unanswered. This behavior became a character trait as he grew up. Avoiding his problems by pretending they didn’t exist became a habit.
Donald began his career as an Ophthalmologist when Viv, a mutual fund manager met him, serendipitously, on a train. Sometime later, they were married. Don’s father, who had Parkinson’s Disease, took a turn for the worse and Don decided to move closer to his parents, change careers and open a business. He became an Optometrist. His father was a stickler for following rules, a whistleblower at times, regardless of the consequences, and his mother was devoted to him. Don was devoted to both of them. After his father died, Don became the caretaker of his charming parrot named Nabokov. I thought the bird would have had more of an impact on the story than it did, but the parrot did provide a lightness to the tale.
Viv’s parents were divorced. They lived on opposite sides of America. She was not close to either of them. Don and the children were her everything. Viv had never wanted to live in Suburbia with the Republicans and the rednecks, but she agreed to try it. As a young girl, she had loved horses and had been a fairly good rider. After obtaining a job at a stable, working with a close childhood friend, Claudia, she became increasingly involved with one particular horse named Mercury. Perhaps, because of the lack of closeness she had with her parents, and the growing distance between Don and her, she became obsessed with a magnificent horse she wished to train and enter into competitions. Mercury was the bay owned by Hilary whose daughter Diane was a patient of Don’s. Hilary had inherited the horse after her brother Michael died. Although she did not ride him, she arranged to have him properly cared for at the stable run by Claudia and Viv. It was how she kept her connection to her brother alive. Hilary also knew Don’s very good friend Jack, and as events unfolded, all of their lives would be severely impacted by their selfish needs, their secrets and their lies. None of them seemed to fully embrace the idea of sacrifice or loyalty, but rather they harvested the seeds of envy and watched them grow.
After Don’s father passed away, he grew ever more distant at home, sometimes even fantasizing about another woman. Although he appeared to be listening and engaging with his family, he was really distracted and paying little attention to their messages. Although Viv sensed his shutting down, she was so wrapped up in her own needs, she did little to help him. They were both traveling in opposite directions and they grew further apart as she grew closer to the horse she had fallen in love with. This overpowering love had a powerful effect on all of the characters as the story developed.
Without revealing more of the story than necessary, suffice it to say that it seemed to be about choices. How do we make them and why do we make them? To what lengths will we go to satisfy our own needs? How damaging are secrets and lies to a relationship? Is it possible to forgive someone after you feel betrayed by them? Which characters are more forgiving than others? Why are some characters able to forgive and some unable to do the same? Which choice was the worst one in the story?
It is also about relationships, those with parents, siblings, and friends. What kind of loyalty is owed to each? In addition, there seemed to be a narrative that pitted instability vs. criminality, loyalty vs. honesty. Was there any evidence of any character actually changing as they grew up or were they all simply stuck in their own childhood? They had egocentric views of themselves, seemed preoccupied with the detritus of their youth, their sad memories, and never seemed to have truly moved on as adults. Why is the character Jack blind? What does he represent? Is he the catalyst, the character that reveals the others’ strengths and weaknesses? Charlie was a young spoiled girl who also loved horses. What purpose did she serve in the story? Was it to point out that Viv never grew up or that young and old were equally selfish? In this novel, in the end, was it better to tell the truth or to lie? Which act would have hurt fewer people? Which choice would have had worse consequences? How did Robert’s choice, as an adult, regarding Donald’s dilemma, compare to his assessment of choices in Tristan and Isolde? Was Hilary’s assessment of Rick’s responsibility to her fair or selfish? Because the story is told in successive alternate parts, first Don’s and then Viv’s, it is of necessity a bit redundant, and sometimes the novel’s pace grew slow. Overall, though, it was an interesting read for a book group to discuss as the misinterpretation of events led to mistaken conclusions with disastrous results.
The narrator of the male character, Don, was excellent, reading the story with the appropriate amount of expression without making himself the focus. He allowed the character to develop slowly and authentically. The narrator of Viv, however, over emoted and took over the character, almost preventing her from taking her natural form in the book. Her voice was often too enticing and breathy, sometimes falling off too low at the end of a sentence. I felt that she inserted herself too strongly into the reading. The author’s apparent liberal views became very apparent as she injected her anti-gun, anti-conservative, and pro-life positions throughout the narrative, but they were not offensive.