- Paperback: 280 pages
- Published: 2/28/12
- IBSN: 9781617750366
- e-IBSN: 9781617751134
- Genre: Fiction
An enchanting first novel exploring a fractured utopian community on the Texas/Mexico border at the turn of the twentieth century.
“Eliza Factor’s first novel, The Mercury Fountain, explores what happens when a life driven by ideology confronts implacable truths of science and human nature. It also shows how leaders can inflict damage by neglecting the real needs of real people. Though the action takes place between 1900 and 1923, the resonance feel alarmingly contemporary . . . Factor counters convention with a sharp sense of character, evocative subplots and the dangerous allure of mercury itself.”
—New York Times Book Review (Editor’s Choice)
“Factor develops her characters in entertaining ways while building a novel of social realism.”
“Eliza Factor has wrought a strange, tough book that digs deep into the mind. At turns poetic and eerie, startling and transcendent, it charts the twisting regions of the heart. I haven’t read a book quite like it before—its historical portrait of an alternative world in the Mexican borderlands is hypnotic.”
—Luis Alberto Urrea, author of Into the Beautiful North
“Eliza Factor’s fascinating novel focuses on the life of Owen Scraperton, who establishes a utopian community ten miles from the Mexican border in the late 1800s. Blindly believing in mercury’s mystical properties and the benefits of mining for the soul, he forges alliances with dubious strangers and even the U.S. cavalry who are bent on destroying his multiracial and harmonious community for the sake of profit. Defied by his wife Dolores and his brilliant daughter Victoria, Owen persists, leading to a powerful ending no one can predict.”
—David Unger, author of The Price of Escape
“Eliza Factor has written a remarkable page-turning saga about a town at the turn of the twentieth century, founded on one man’s ambition to turn this magical, slippery, toxic substance into not just gold but something better—the foundation of a utopian society . . . Captivating and exquisitely written, this debut novel heralds the exhilarating arrival of an author to keep watching.”
—Malena Watrous, author of If You Follow Me
“From its gripping opening scene to its stunning conclusion, The Mercury Fountain pulses with life. Eliza Factor has created a rich world that the reader can breathe, smell, and taste, where men’s ambitions become delusions and violence conquers industry. This vibrant, large-hearted debut novel is a powerful portrayal of family, community, and landscape.”
—Ghita Schwarz, author of Displaced Persons
“Eliza Factor has written a novel of the lost world of mercury mining, and I didn’t realize until I looked up at the end of this fine, engaging story of family, money, power, and environment that I’d read a Western. The town of Pristina is blessed and cursed with quicksilver and its lethal legacy; here is American history and plenty of drama brought to light at long last.”
—Ron Carlson, author of The Signal
The Mercury Fountain takes place at the turn of the twentieth-century in a remote and beautiful stretch of Chihuahuan desert near the border of West Texas and Mexico. Owen Scraperton, a passionate Yankee seeking to atone for his misspent youth, leaves the comforts of Boston’s Beacon Hill for a fresh start in the wilderness. The story follows Owen’s pursuits as he struggles to establish Pristina, a utopian community that attempts to resolve the great questions of labor and race by upholding the ideals of “clarity, unity, and purpose.” The economic foundation of this new world is based on the mining of mercury, a metal that Owen upholds for its usefulness, fluidity, and beauty, while disregarding its darker and more harmful aspects. Although Owen’s thinking may not always be rational, his heart is sincere, and his voice is rich and seductive. He attracts followers from both the Northeast and the local population, just the heterogeneous mix he needs to test his social theories.
But a dark cloud gathers over Pristina soon after Owen’s marriage to Dolores, a Mexican beauty from an impoverished aristocratic family. While Owen is deeply in love with her, Dolores quickly becomes dismayed by her predicament. She had thought she was marrying an American millionaire who would take her on trips to Paris, but instead finds herself stranded in the desert and cut off from the civilization she so yearns to be a part of. As the mercury market bottoms out, Dolores can only find solace in her burgeoning friendship with Badinoe, the town’s cynical and hard-drinking doctor, and soon musters enough courage for an act of defiance against Owen that divides the community’s allegiances.
Entering into this combustible mix is the birth of their only child Victoria, a remarkably talented girl who inherits her father’s romanticism and her mother’s independence. Owen grooms Victoria to be the inheritor of Pristina, a role she embraces with zest and earnestness. Yet this ardor will be Owen’s downfall. 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.
A sweeping epic that blends the noirish sensibilities of Cormac McCarthy with the seductive language of Gabriel García Márquez, and featuring an unforgettable protagonist who would be at home next to Daniel Day-Lewis in the film There Will Be Blood, The Mercury Fountain combines realistic modern writing with elements from American and Greco-Roman mythology, taking its cue from Mercury, the most slippery and mischievous of gods, who rules over science, commerce, eloquence, and thievery.