Bazaar Book Chat January Pick: Mercury, by Amy Jo Burns

Looking for your next read? Welcome to the inaugural edition of Bazaar Book Chat, an inside look at our editors’ Slack channel, where we candidly review the latest literary releases.


bazaar book chat

Rosa Sanchez (senior news editor)

OK, @here kicking us off for our first Bazaar Book Chat!

We started January by reading Mercury by Amy Jo Burns. The novel follows the Josephs, a family of roofers, and Marley, an entrepreneurial teen whose sudden arrival in the titular sleepy western Pennsylvania town disrupts the status quo. Within a year, Marley has claimed a permanent spot for herself at the Joseph dinner table—which includes patriarch Mick, wife Elise, and their three sons, Baylor, Waylon, and Shay. But while the Josephs have a legacy of fixing anything that’s broken, they don’t realize their family is in need of repair until a dark secret threatens them all.

Mercury: A Novel

Mercury: A Novel

Mercury: A Novel

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What are our first thoughts on the story?

I really liked how the author developed the characters in layers, giving us glimpses into their personalities from different points of view. What they thought of themselves and the secrets they kept, versus how others saw them. I just think that’s such a realistic way of writing about a character, because that’s how it is in real life—like, how we see ourselves is definitely not how family members or friends or strangers see us.

I especially loved this quote about Shay: “Shay loved best when he said, Show me your worst thing. I promise I won’t look away.”

💕 5


Joel Calfee (editorial and social media assistant)

It lends to this idea that we’ll never totally know what the ones we love are thinking or feeling, no matter how hard we try.

Additionally, I thought the various perspectives intensify the claustrophobia and mystery of the book. As the reader, you’re revisiting the same memories from each character’s point of view and constantly returning to the past—this mirrors the feelings of the characters, who can’t escape their memories or can’t stop wondering what could have been had they made different choices. Meanwhile, with each new point of view, we slowly learn more about the dead body from the first chapter, which makes for an exhilarating read. It’s hard to combine family drama and a murder mystery into one novel, but Burns blends the two seamlessly.

❤️ 5


Faith Brown (senior social media manager)

There was a paragraph in the first chapter: “Theo was now part of a long tradition in the Joseph family of children who had been disappointed by their fathers. Mick Joseph had never attended any of Waylon’s baseball games … Now, though, Way wondered whether Mick had been there after all, lurking behind the bleachers like he was.” It really stuck with me, this idea of fighting where you come from, or trying to be or do something in spite of your parents, and then ending up just like them. It made me curious to see how Burns was going to unravel their relationship throughout the rest of the book. Then of course, the body in the attic. You can’t really put the book down until you learn where the body came from!

💕 5


Chelsey Sanchez (associate editor)

Mercury is a character study of not only the boundaries we draw within our own families, but also the boundaries and roles that feel predestined for us. It’s a story that will resonate with readers who might come from dysfunctional families themselves.

I’m curious to know what everyone else thought about the relationship between Elise and Marley, the former being the Joseph family matriarch (and the invisible hand that keeps the house and the men running), and the latter the newest member, still trying to prove her place at the dinner table. They’re women who so easily could each have wound up with the other’s fate, and I think they both demonstrate how we learn to become mothers and wives from the women we grew up with—whether or not those women were or are actually happy with the outcomes of their lives.

💕 5


Rosa Sanchez

Definitely. It takes a long time for us to get to know Elise, because we’re always seeing her through other people’s eyes—particularly Marley’s. And once we do get to know her, we wish she had seen herself through the eyes of those who loved her.


Joel Calfee

I thought the dynamic between Elise and Marley was the most interesting relationship in the book. I’m sure many people can relate to the idea of craving an in-law’s approval, and it really hits home, that feeling of wanting to be like someone but not knowing how to establish that bond.


Rosa Sanchez

And it’s powerful that while their relationship never deepens, Marley’s view of Elise changes entirely as we read on. She realizes she doesn’t want to live the way Elise did, and yet she continues to fight for Elise’s love and approval.The story starts off heavy on the roofing and male energy, just for us to realize it was a story of two women all along.


Joel Calfee

Right?? Their roofing company is quite literally called Joseph & Sons, but it’s the work and the sacrifices of these women that have kept it afloat. I enjoy the contrast between Elise, who falls more into old-fashioned gender roles, and Marley, who learns how to fight against those norms and becomes all the stronger for it—which I don’t think she would’ve done quite as easily without understanding Elise’s journey.


Rosa Sanchez

Did we empathize with the dad, Mick, ever?


Joel Calfee

No, lol. But if we had gotten a chapter from his point of view, I’m curious if I would’ve empathized with him more.


Chelsey Sanchez

I also didn’t have much of an emotional attachment to Mick, but I think he’s still a really vivid example of a supposed “patriarch” being subsumed by his own gendered notions of family. He lacks the self-awareness of what it really means to create a home, or what it means to be a leader.


Rosa Sanchez

I agree, I feel like we never get the declaration of love from him that we’re looking for. He ends up disappointing us, like he does all of his family members. Big eek. He’d be a Cancer sign for sure.

😂 1


Joel Calfee

He’ll go around town fixing things for everybody, but won’t fix things in his own home—he clearly loves the external approval, but won’t put in the effort when it matters, with his own family.


Rosa Sanchez

And on the other hand, I think Baylor starts off badly, like Mick, and really grows before our eyes.

I don’t know why, but Waylon was the least interesting character to me, yet the closest to all the action.


Joel Calfee

I completely agree. It’s funny, because Baylor talks about being a “bookend” brother, while middle brother Waylon is the center of the story, but I thought Baylor was the most complex character.


Bianca Betancourt (culture editor)

I’m not sure what drives the attraction between Marley and Waylon? It felt like there needed to be more of a build before she was just immediately [spoiler]. Sometimes I wasn’t even fully convinced she really loved him!

❗️2


Joel Calfee

I will say, all it takes for me to get into a book is a steamy scene, so when Marley has that first saucy encounter, I was like, FINALLY, something for mama! Then Miss Burns had me locked in.

I do care about roofs when I’m sitting on them waiting to crawl into my lover’s window.

😭 3


Bianca Betancourt

Agree, Joel! I needed more SMUT!

❗️2

We know those small-towners get down!

❗️3


Rosa Sanchez

I’m dead. 💀

Did we end up empathizing with any of the characters’ storylines?


Chelsey Sanchez

The older I get, the more I think about the women who raised me—particularly how their unconditional care for us often went unnoticed. Naturally, I see a lot of the matriarchs in my life in the character arcs of Marley, Elise, and even Marley’s mother, Ruth. I immediately highlighted this line when I first read it: “Who could know what to search for in a mother? Children were trained to look at her and see their own needs instead.” Marley’s a great model of breaking that generational trauma and demanding the right to autonomy over your own life as a wife and mother.


Rosa Sanchez

I was most drawn to Shay and all the ways in which he took the temperature of the family, and chose to welcome Marley as his mother figure when his own mother proved to be absent—at least mentally. He reminded me of my little brother in a way, always knowing best despite being the youngest.


Joel Calfee

I didn’t totally empathize with one character more than the others; however, I empathize with the recurring theme of seeking love in the wrong places. Whether these characters go for the wrong partners or try to make people fill the spaces where their family members have fallen short, they ultimately have to learn how to stop chasing pavements. When it comes to relationships, I can really relate to that.


Rosa Sanchez

How did we feel reading this book? Was it easy to get through?

While I thought the first chapters were quite slow and somewhat repetitive, I got much more into the story toward the end—once we start uncovering all the big secrets.


Chelsey Sanchez

This book might be a slow burn for some readers, but it pays off, IMO. I personally don’t need a lot of action to get through a story; I’m more motivated by compelling characters and relationships.


Faith Brown

The book definitely starts out slow, but I was still inclined to keep reading (and not just because I knew we had to discuss it for Book Chat).


Bianca Betancourt

It did feel repetitive, especially in the beginning. We get it—they’re roofers! I’m not against a small-town story at all, but I feel like the core characters weren’t as intriguing as they should’ve been to carry this “family mystery” through. The dialogue also wasn’t the strongest at times—I was imagining: If this were a TV show or movie, how would it draw viewers in?


Chelsey Sanchez

All of the roofing references were very inside baseball—but it makes sense, since the author herself comes from a family of roofers! Apparently, her dad, brothers, and even grandfather have been in the industry, so you definitely get this sense of reverence toward their job.


Rosa Sanchez

I fully feel like I can fix a leak now lol

😂 2

Any final thoughts? Did we get anything from the book that we’re taking with us? Would we recommend it to others?


Joel Calfee

I thought it painted the complicated relationship between siblings and between children and parents in a very nuanced way. It has a rewarding ending, and even though it can often be very dark, it closes with a lot of hope.

💕 1


Chelsey Sanchez

My takeaway is simply that moms deserve more! (And I’ll never take a non-leaking roof for granted again.)

❤️ 1


Rosa Sanchez

What I got is that our lives aren’t just our own, and while we may think we’re acting for ourselves most of the time, our decisions can become permanent wrinkles in the lives of those around us, and even form the people they eventually become. I would recommend this book for a chill Sunday read.

❤️ 1

Lettermark

Rosa Sanchez is the senior news editor at Harper’s Bazaar, working on news as it relates to entertainment, fashion, and culture. Previously, she was a news editor at ABC News and, prior to that, a managing editor of celebrity news at American Media. She has also written features for Rolling Stone, Teen Vogue, Forbes, and The Hollywood Reporter, among other outlets.