Book Bagby Steve Pfarrer

Published: 10/7/2016 9:35:00 AM


By Margot Livesey


How well can you really know another person? And what happens when husbands and wives keep secrets from one another?

Those questions are at the heart of “Mercury,” the new novel by Margot Livesey, a Scottish native who lives and works in Boston. It’s at once a study of the intricacies and mysteries of a marriage, a tale of obsession, and a look at the way people can remain blinded to the actions and feelings of those close to them.

Donald and Viv appear to have a happy marriage: he’s an optometrist in the Boston suburbs, she’s a former mutual funds broker who now trains and tends horses in a stable with her childhood friend, Claudia. The couple are devoted to their young children, Marcus and Trina.

But Scottish-born Donald, cautious and phlegmatic in the way of a stereotypical Scot, is gripped by a deep sense of loss from the recent death of his father after a long fight with Parkinson’s Disease. That and his natural reserve encase him in what his wife likens to a thick, impenetrable space suit.

Donald, who serves as the narrator of the first and third sections of the novel, admits as much early in the story.    

“But there is listening, and there is listening. When my patients talk during an exam, I respond appropriately even when 90 percent of my attention is focused on the cornea, the iris, the lens. And that, I fear, is how I listened when Viv first told me about a horse named Mercury.”

Mercury is a new arrival at Viv’s stable: a sleek, beautiful young thoroughbred who awakens in Viv both her past love of riding and a sudden, fierce desire to enter competitions again. To do so, she begins to spin a small series of deceptions, not just with Donald but with Claudia and Mercury’s owner, Hilary, a new woman in town who doesn’t know that Viv is secretly training on her horse.

Those deceptions grow as Viv, who narrates the middle part of the novel, becomes alarmed over some mysterious break-ins at the stable and buys a gun — illegally — in New Hampshire. Donald is drawn into the game as well when he keeps information from Viv that, unintentionally, leads to a shocking incident that envelops the couple and some of their friends.

Livesey uses a number of smaller but well-drawn characters to tell the story, though the focus remains on Donald and Viv and their breakdown in communication and understanding.

“Sometimes, Don, for all your lenses, you can’t see what’s right in front of your face,” says Viv. Donald’s response? “We both kept secrets, and our secrets kept us separate.”

Margot Livesey will read from “Mercury” on Thursday at 7 p.m. at the Odyssey Bookshop in South Hadley.



By Jim Kaplan

Levellers Press

Veteran sportswriter Jim Kaplan of Northampton has long had a sweet spot for baseball, which he once covered for Sports Illustrated. In his new book, “Clearing the Bases,” he collects past articles from SI and other publications and adds some new observations on the grand old game.

In “Clearing the Bases,” published by Levellers Press of Amherst, Kaplan ranges all over the field, so to speak. For example, there’s an eloquent defense of the game that has been criticized for being too slow, not exciting enough to entice fans drawn to football and basketball.

But given all the previous times baseball’s imminent demise has been predicted, Kaplan writes, average attendance at games today is far higher today than 60 years ago, supposedly the sports glory era: “Baseball is an unhurried alternative to the slam-bang action of other sports and the 24-hour news cycle.”

Kaplan also profiles Ron Taylor, a relief pitcher on the 1969 world champion New York Mets who became a doctor after baseball. There’s also an engaging profile of Tim McCarver, who caught two of the best pitchers of the 1960s and 1970s, Bob Gibson and Steve Carlton, before becoming a popular broadcaster for the game.

Jim Kaplan reads from “Clearing the Bases” Tuesday at at 7 p.m. at the Florence Civic Center.




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