The Mercury Fountain
by Eliza Factor

Akashic Books, 2012. ISBN 978-1-617-75036-6.
Reviewed by Trilla Pando
Posted on 05/22/2012

Fiction: Historical; Fiction: Mainstream

The first time I visited West Texas and saw the vast Chihuahuan Desert sweeping northward across the Rio Grande, both wonder and horror engulfed me. Wonder at the stunning but arid beauty of the land and horror that people must find a way to wrestle a living from this forbidding land.

It is in this forbidding setting that Owen Scraperton sought not only to tear a living from beneath the land by mining mercury, but also to spread his personal philosophy by establishing his workers in a utopian community. It seemed utopia to Scraperton, but not to all of those who fell under his sway; not only many of the workers but also his strong-minded Mexican wife Delores and his irrepressible daughter Victoria whose early life this novel spans.

Born in 1900 as the story opens, Victoria's first sight of her father was of a man covered in mercury ore—by design. He wanted her to know from the start that this was her life, her destiny. She spent her childhood reading the framed copy of "The Principles of Pristina" which outlined Scraperton's standards for Pristina, the town he owned and ran along with his deadly mine.

The book, although relatively brief, sweeps through the next twenty-three years. It tells more than the story of a girl, a family, a town; it moves through history and human natures. Underlying it all is mercury. A fountain of the deadly and fascinating liquid dominates the center of town. The idea and mythology of the messenger god, the capricious Mercury, winds through the book.

The author brings not only the major characters of Owen, Delores, and Victoria to well-rounded life but also many of the minor ones—Dr. Badinoe having his forbidden booze brought in on the water cart; Ysidro growing from a dusty peon urchin into a talented and worldly young man. This is a story well-told that deals with a little known time and place.

Born in Boston, author Eliza Factor studied at Columbia University and Arizona State University. She did extensive research on the Chihuahuan Desert before undertaking her first novel. She now lives in Brooklyn, New York with her family. In addition to her writing she is the executive director of Extreme Kids and Crew. Read more on her publisher's website.

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