Review by Booklist Review
In this finely wrought southern gothic tale, Finus Bates, an 89-year-old radio announcer, reflects on his thwarted love affair with Birdie Wells. As a child, Finus falls in love with the winsome Birdie when he spies her executing a naked cartwheel. Despite their mutual attraction, Birdie and Finus end up betrothed to others: Birdie to the lecherous son of one of the town's wealthiest families, and Finus to Birdie's best friend, a severe woman with unexpected reservoirs of strength. As Watson traces the lovers' sad histories, he flips to the present day, when Finus investigates the decades-old poisoning of Birdie's husband. As Finus uncovers more clues, he discovers new facets of the seemingly pragmatic Birdie. Watson populates his debut novel with quirky characters who are fleshed out by the secrets they contain--from the town undertaker, who harbors appropriately dark passions, to Birdie's maid, who transforms from timid child to trusted confidante. Watson, who attracted attention with his short-story collection Last Days of the Dog-Men (1996), is sure to garner more fans with this ruefully romantic tale. --Brendan Dowling
From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review
Watson traces a dark but resonant journey through the world of the Southern gothic in his bleak, touching debut novel (after his hailed collection, Last Days of the Dog-Men), set in tiny Mercury, Miss., in the first quarter of the 20th century. He takes some risks in employing genre cliches, starting with the romantic triangle in which young, sensitive Finus Bates watches the girl of his dreams, Birdie Wells, marry a more determined suitor, the shallow but ardent earl Urquhart. That leaves Bates to marry Birdie's best friend, Avis Crossweatherly, and both marriages fail miserably as Watson tracks his two would-be lovers through the years. At 16, Birdie is a victim of her slick husband's infidelity, which starts when he finds her sexually inadequate and turns his attention to other women, until he finally falls in love with a woman living in a nearby town. Bates, meanwhile, realizes that Avis has engineered Birdie's marriage, leaving Bates vulnerable to her own rapacious pursuit. To escape his shrewish wife, he immerses himself in his work on his smalltown newspaper, where he pens eloquent obituaries ("Disappointments flock to us like crows," he writes in one). Watson's subordinate characters - including the compassionate town mortician, whose first experience of death involves necrophilia; former slave, medicine woman and midwife Aunt Vish, who knows all the dark secrets of the community; Creasie, a taciturn maid - are observed with cool irony and invested with humanity. Several deaths punctuate the narrative, and casual, virulent racism is rampant, sometimes balanced by a grudging interracial respect. Watson's prose is lush and sometimes a bit too orotund and faux-Faulknerian, but it fits the narrative theme of metamorphoses from one life to another, from earth to a land beyond. 8-city author tour. (Aug.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Review by Library Journal Review
Star-crossed lovers? Or victims of self-doubt and indecision? However one categorizes Finus Bates and Birdie Wells's love, the fact remains that it ruined two marriages and damaged the lives of the people nearest them. Finus and Birdie have known each other all their lives, but it was a chance glimpse of Birdie nude in the woods in 1917 that galvanized Finus's love forever. That he won her in a card game and lost her the same night and that he asked her to run away with him but didn't have the nerve to carry through cements their fate forever. In his first novel, Watson, author of the award-winning short story collection Last Days of the Dog-Men, tells the story of two ill-fated marriages and a second chance some 30 years later. In a Southern Gothic style reminiscent of Faulkner, Watson lays bare the lives and most intimate secrets of the richest and poorest families in Mercury, MS. The characters' racism may offend some readers, but it is an essential element of that particular time and place. Highly recommended for public libraries. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 4/15/02.] Thomas L. Kilpatrick, formerly with Southern Illinois Univ. Lib., Carbondale (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
(c) Copyright Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Review by Kirkus Book Review
A seamless interweaving of narrative, remembrance, dreaming, and fantasy unifies a wealth of colorful tragicomic material--in a superb first novel by the Alabama storywriter (Last Days of the Dog-Men, 1996). Central protagonist Finus Bates is the octogenarian editor of his hometown newspaper, The Mercury Comet, and sometime radio personality--and, through the long years of an unhappy marriage and unmitigated grief over his only son's early death, the unfulfilled lover of Birdie Wells Urquhart, whom Finus has adored ever since he accidentally saw her naked many decades earlier. Watson sets their unaccomplished relationship within a roiling context that embraces such melodramatic local phenomena as the tomcatting prowess of Birdie's unfaithful husband Earl and his appalling father Junius; the stunted growth to manhood of Parnell Grimes, inheritor of both his father's funeral parlor and the persuasive rumor that the latter had prospered by "selling bodies and body parts to the Atomic Energy Commission"; and the secrets kept by Birdie's resentful black housemaid Creasie and the latter's spooky Aunt Vish, a healer and witch-woman whom Faulkner might have created. The Southern Gothic detail is both shuddery and deliciously absurd, but the real strength of the novel lies in its flexible structure, which allows us to overhear details of Mercury's overheated history as pieced together by several involved observers, and in Watson's delicate comprehension of the subtle gradations of aging and change as the years pass, Mercury's people settle into the grooves life seems to have reserved for them, and the boundaries separating black from white, humans from animals, the living from the dead, appear to blur and dissolve. Finus and Birdie are marvelous creations, and Watson surrounds them with such agreeable grotesques as Parnell Grimes's death-obsessed soulmate Selena Oswald and Mercury's unofficial intellectual elder, morose, moribund Euple Scarbrough. Southern storytelling is alive and well in Watson's capable hands. An excellent debut. Copyright ©Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.