Set in Mercury, Miss., Brad Watson's (pictured above) first novel, The Heaven of Mercury, traces the lifelong unrequited love of Finus Bates for Birdie Wells, whom he falls in love with after seeing her cartwheeling naked in the woods outside of town in 1917. Later he wins her in a poker game, loses her, then nearly wins her again after the mysterious poisoning of her womanizing husband. During Mercury's evolution from sleepy backwater to small city, Finus, who has been a reporter, obit writer and radio host, has aimed to have the last word on the town's inhabitants. But, ever loyal to Birdie, Finus doesn't rush to unravel the mystery of her husband's death--not, that is, until Birdie has passed on herself. Larry Brown has said of Watson's novel that it's "as mythic and miraculous as Faulkner and Márquez." Hear Watson read from it Wednesday, Aug. 21 at 7:30 at Quail Ridge Books in Raleigh (call 828-1588 for details) and Thursday, Aug. 22 at 7:30 at the Chapel Hill Blvd. Borders Books & Music in Chapel Hill (call 929-8332 for details).