Dead Above Ground

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That was Mother's life back then: planning one daughter's wedding while plotting to kill her other daughter's lover....For feisty young Lita Du Champ, New Orleans is a place dominated by her hardworking family—in particular, her strong-willed mother, Helen, who rules with an unshakable sense of propriety. Ever loyal to her mother, and adoring of her beautiful, restless, married sister Adele, Lita works hard to keep the family together as she attempts to establish her own life. But when Adele falls in love with ...

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2000 Hard cover First edition. New in new dust jacket. Sewn binding. Cloth over boards. 272 p. Audience: General/trade. NEW BOOK. NO NAMES, NO MARKS, NO STICKERS, NO LABELS, NO ... HIGHLITES, NO UNDERLINES. NOT PRICE CLIPPED. BEAUTIFUL BOOK! Every effort has been made in good faith to accurate describe each book, however, occassionally an error occurs, or a mistake will slip by, if so, let us know. Thank you for your consideration of our books. A scintillating and sultry, filled with murder, mystery, and mayhem, passion; veangeance; tears, and the ultimate triumph of a woman's heart (from the reviews). Read more Show Less

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Overview

That was Mother's life back then: planning one daughter's wedding while plotting to kill her other daughter's lover....For feisty young Lita Du Champ, New Orleans is a place dominated by her hardworking family—in particular, her strong-willed mother, Helen, who rules with an unshakable sense of propriety. Ever loyal to her mother, and adoring of her beautiful, restless, married sister Adele, Lita works hard to keep the family together as she attempts to establish her own life. But when Adele falls in love with Lucien Faure—a smooth operator with "the devil's good looks" and a decades-old score to settle with Helen—Lita unveils her mother's mysterious past to confront the Du Champs' long-buried secrets. Now, Lita finds she has one last and desperate chance to save the future of those she loves.

Award-winning author Jervey Tervalon draws from his own heritage—and the twisting family story that haslived and breathed inside him his wole life—to create a spellbindingly luminous novel of passion, murder, and vengeance.

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Editorial Reviews

Philadelphia Inquirer
An urban masterpiece, a gritty, haunting West Side Story---esque ghetto epic of stunning violence yet overpowering beauty.
Katy Kelly
Jervey Tervalon has a way with people. In Dead Above Ground, his characters are so beautifully drawn that readers will probably find them reappearing long after the book is finished. It's a marvelous read.
USA Today
Quarterly Black Review
Tervalon's prose is both unrelenting and nonjudgmental...[He] reminds us that sad tales and lost souls may tear out hearts apart, but they don't stop life from continually renewing itself.
Washington Post Book World
Great Literature has no agenda; it's not propaganda. Tervalon offers no solutions...but [he] succeeds in his larger missions, which is to show us [a] particular way of American life....He's given us a portrait of people who live in a certain world at a certain time and do the best they can.
From the Publisher
Los Angeles Times The city [of New Orleans] shimmers to life through the perfect pitch of the people who inhabit the tale.

The Times-Picayune (New Orleans) Tragic, violent, but ultimately transcendent, Dead Above Ground draws the reader in and never lets go.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780671034689
  • Publisher: Atria Books
  • Publication date: 1/1/2000
  • Pages: 272
  • Product dimensions: 5.77 (w) x 8.73 (h) x 0.89 (d)

Meet the Author

Jervey Tervalon is the author of All the Trouble You Need, Understand This, and the Los Angeles Times bestseller Dead Above Ground. An award-winning poet, screenwriter, and dramatist, Jervey was born in New Orleans, raised in Los Angeles, and now lives in Altadena, California, with his wife and two daughters.

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Read an Excerpt

From Chapter One

I remember the day we were out on the proch at the old house fanning ourselves, hoping for a breeze. Mother saw Adele coming home to visit in that red dress so tight I don't know how she could have breathed, but she looked beautiful and she knew it. That dress, nothing she sewed with her own hands, had to be from Maison Blanche, and that fancy hat with a feather in the band covering her head full of sandy brown curls took the cake. Mother didn't wait for Adele to reach the top step before she grabbed hold of her.

"My, my, this is a surprise," Mother said.

Adele kissed her and then me. "I got more time to myself since Rene is away."

"Where to this time?" Mother asked.

Adele shook her head and smiled that coy smile of hers.

"Ding Bang...Sam Pang...someplace."

"But he's sending his checks home to you," Mother said.

"Oh, yeah. He keeps me happy," Adele said, pinching my shoulder hard.

"You quit that."

"I got to keep my little sister in line." Adele pinched me again.

Mother cut her eyes, and I knew better than to get Adele back.

"You come and stay with us," Mother said. "Rene's going to sea for what, six months? Time enough to be alone in that house."

"Oh, don't you worry. I'm keeping busy," Adele smiled like she does when she's getting away with something big. "You know Lucien Fauré?"

"Lucien Fauré" The color washed right out of Mother's face.

Adele grinned.

"Are you crazy? Don't you know about that man!

"I know he's some good-looking."

"Adele, he's the devil. He kills women."

Adele laughed. Mother didn't.

"Lucien kills women? Mother, I don't know who you've been listening to."

"Don't be stupid. You don't know that man."

People always talked about all the Irish in Mother; how fair she looked and how when she got really mad she'd get almost as red as cooked crab. I guess since she was out of the house Adele could ignore that. She just kept laughing.

"Now, Lita, don't you think he's about the most handsome man you ever did see?"

I shrugged. If I said a word, I'd get the back of Mother's hand.

"Lucien's sweet as pie," Adele said, all innocent sounding, like she didn't know how angry she was making Mother.

Mother's hand flashed up, and I thought Adele was going to get slapped. Instead she flung the screen door open so hard it popped off its hinges and the door exploded shut behind it.

"Never saw her look so mad," Adele said.

I laughed. "Mother gets very mad."

"Maybe at you."

I thought Adele would just turn and walk down the steps and leave me to start dinner before Mother started shouting for me, but she lingered on the porch.

"She's wrong about Lucien?" I asked.

"She thinks she knows something about him, but those are just lies. He's so good to me."

"That's good," I said, but I couldn't help thinking about how right Mother was about everything except for Daddy.

"So when is she going to let you see somebody? You're seventeen." I sighed.

"Ain't nobody I want to see."

"Girl, don't lie. You scared of her."

"I see boys," I said, halfheartedly.

Adele was right and I didn't feel like admitting it,so I kept my mouth shut.

"Sometimes you Just have to do what you want. Can't always worry about every little thing," she said as she waved good-bye and headed up Gravier.

Maybe Adele was even more glamorous in my eyes because she could get away with so much. I never understood why Mother tolerated her fast life; now that Adele was set with a hardworking husband, so pretty and dressed so fine, some people called her Little Lena Horne. Made it too easy for a man to fall in love with her. Adele saw Rene coming, she batted her long lashes and landed him easily. The idiot thought he caught himself the belle of the ball, but he was the one getting skinned, cleaned, and hung out to dry. What she saw in him was a colored man with a white man's job. Rene was so fair he couldn't work as a negro, but he found himself a position on a merchant marine ship, and that was it. Adele had schemed to get those fat paychecks and those frequent trips where Rene would be out at sea and she'd be alone and not have to answer to anyone. Think she would have lived like a queen and made a few babies and spoiled herself rotten, but not Adele. Married, but with all that time and opportunity, she just chased men like a hungry dog looking for a bone.

Copyright © 2000 by Jervey Tervalon

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Table of Contents

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First Chapter

From Dead Above Ground

I remember the day we were out on the porch at the old house fanning ourselves, hoping for a breeze. Mother saw Adele coming home to visit in that red dress so tight I don't know how she could have breathed, but she looked beautiful and she knew it. That dress, nothing she sewed with her own hands, had to be from Maison Blanche, and that fancy hat with a feather in the band covering her head full of sandy brown curls took the cake. Mother didn't wait for Adele to reach the top step before she grabbed hold of her.

"My, my, this is a surprise," Mother said.

Adele kissed her and then me. "I got more time to myself since Rene is away."

"Where to this time?" Mother asked.

Adele shook her head and smiled that coy smile of hers.

"Ding Bang...Sam Pang...someplace."

"But he's sending his checks home to you," Mother said.

"Oh, yeah. He keeps me happy," Adele said, pinching my shoulder hard.

"You quit that."

"I got to keep my little sister in line." Adele pinched me again.

Mother cut her eyes, and I knew better than to get Adele back.

"You come and stay with us," Mother said. "Rene's going to sea for what, six months? Time enough to be alone in that house."

"Oh, don't you worry. I'm keeping busy," Adele smiled like she does when she's getting away with something big. "You know Lucien Fauré?"

"Lucien Fauré?" The color washed right out of Mother's face.

Adele grinned.

"Are you crazy? Don't you know about that man!"

"I know he's some good-looking."

"Adele, he's the devil. He kills women."

Adele laughed. Mother didn't.

"Lucien kills women? Mother, I don't know who you've been listening to."

"Don't be stupid. You don't know that man."

People always talked about all the Irish in Mother; how fair she looked and how when she got really mad she'd get almost as red as cooked crab. I guess since she was out of the house Adele could ignore that. She just kept laughing.

"Now, Lita, don't you think he's about the most handsome man you ever did see?"

I shrugged. If I said a word, I'd get the back of Mother's hand.

"Lucien's sweet as pie," Adele said, all innocent sounding, like she didn't know how angry she was making Mother.

Mother's hand flashed up, and I thought Adele was going to get slapped. Instead she flung the screen door open so hard it popped off its hinges and the door exploded shut behind it.

"Never saw her look so mad," Adele said.

I laughed. "Mother gets very mad."

"Maybe at you."

I thought Adele would just turn and walk down the steps and leave me to start dinner before Mother started shouting for me, but she lingered on the porch.

"She's wrong about Lucien?" I asked.

"She thinks she knows something about him, but those are just lies. He's so good to me."

"That's good," I said, but I couldn't help thinking about how right Mother was about everything except for Daddy.

"So when is she going to let you see somebody? You're seventeen."

I sighed.

"Ain't nobody I want to see."

"Girl, don't lie. You scared of her."

"I see boys," I said, halfheartedly.

Adele was right and I didn't feel like admitting it, so I kept my mouth shut.

"Sometimes you just have to do what you want. Can't always worry about every little thing," she said as she waved good-bye and headed up Gravier.


Maybe Adele was even more glamorous in my eyes because she could get away with so much. I never understood why Mother tolerated her fast life; now that Adele was set with a hardworking husband, so pretty and dressed so fine, some people called her Little Lena Horne. Made it too easy for a man to fall in love with her. Adele saw Rene coming, she batted her long lashes and landed him easily. The idiot thought he caught himself the belle of the ball, but he was the one getting skinned, cleaned, and hung out to dry. What she saw in him was a colored man with a white man's job. Rene was so fair he couldn't work as a negro, but he found himself a position on a merchant marine ship, and that was it. Adele had schemed to get those fat paychecks and those frequent trips where Rene would be out at sea and she'd be alone and not have to answer to anyone. Think she would have lived like a queen and made a few babies and spoiled herself rotten, but not Adele. Married, but with all that time and opportunity, she just chased men like a hungry dog looking for a bone.


Adele married Rene just when things were getting worse between Mother and Daddy, and because of that, Mother had only me to take out her troubles on. I didn't mind that she rode me like a French Quarter horse; she was much harder on herself than me. I'd see Mother waiting like a lovestruck girl at the kitchen table with Daddy's dinner warming on the stove, but he rarely made it home before we were all asleep. She had a broken heart and a sick heart and it was my job to keep it from getting worse. Maybe to keep him, Mother became pregnant, carrying twins she must have known she wouldn't see grow up. It was a miracle she survived to term. After they were born, it fell to me to raise them. By the time this Lucien business started, Ava and Ana were six years old, and they had long been my responsibility.

That was one bitter Monday: first the news of Adele's hot pants for Lucien, then Daddy coming home drunk, looking to beat somebody's behind.

In the darkness of the bedroom, a child on each arm cutting off my circulation, I was trying not to move, worrying I'd wake them and would have to get the girls asleep all over again. I needed to sleep myself, but I was too worn out, resentful at chasing my little sisters while Mother sat in the kitchen all Monday long brooding about Adele and wondering if Daddy would ever make it home for red beans and rice, his favorite meal. Daddy being gone was fine for me. At least the house was quiet.

Then he came stumbling in. I imagined Mother rushing to meet him, happy like Christmas in July. I heard them in the kitchen, Mother saying soothing words, Daddy grumbling.

"Bay, can I get you a cold drink? You don't want red beans and rice? You want me to cook a pork chop?"

I slid the sleeping twins from my arms and crept to the kitchen. There I saw Mother trying hard to light the stove.

"Woman! Are you some kind of fool!"

Daddy, dressed to the nines as usual for catting around, stood at the sink next to Mother, Mother still trying to strike a match.

"What? You got these damn matches wet! You dumb heifer!"

Daddy was a smallish man except for his arms from having to carry all that luggage in his Pullman porter days. He smacked Mother hard enough so that she bounced against the sink. He must have stunned her. She stood rigid and defenseless. Daddy grabbed her neck and forced her backward, turned on the faucet, and stuck her face under the stream of water. Clear as day I can still hear her gagging. He didn't stop. No, he kept it up till I thought she would die.

That was the first time I saw red. I mean really saw it, swam in it. I saw that bastard daddy of mine trying to kill Mother, and suddenly I was burning, raging in a sea of red hatred.

I rushed into the kitchen, startling the two of them, but still Daddy didn't let go. "You get out of here. Leave us be!" he commanded. He raised his hand like he could hit me although I was halfway across the room. He wanted me to run, but I didn't. No, that red rage propelled me to grab the big butcher knife from off the counter.

"Stop! I swear I'll cut you to hell!"

After a long moment of catching his breath from all that effort at trying to kill Mother, he laughed at me. I think he thought he could take the knife. His drunken ass stumbled toward me, hands reaching for the knife, and I cut him as easily as the chicken I cooked for dinner.

"Oh, God!" he shouted. "The little bitch cut me!"

"Get out!" I shouted.

"No, Lita!" Mother said, pulling me away, but I shook free and chased Daddy through the house and out the front door and into the street until I lost him in those tumbledown shotgun shacks around the corner.

I remember a full moon that night.

Daddy returned the next day with a bandaged hand. He didn't try to beat Mother, and he wouldn't look in my direction. Daddy knew I would kill him if he ever raised a hand to her again. This made me a woman in his eyes and in my own. In Mother's eyes I was the kind of woman who would never be beaten.


Daddy had some big secret. He wouldn't tell Mother what he was up to no matter how many times she asked. Men in dirty overalls came to work in the backyard. They started digging and hammering and pouring concrete, but still Daddy wouldn't tell us what they were building. The frame of a small house went up, and I thought we were going to take in boarders. Only when they put in the counter and the stools did we figure it out.

"A bar? What for?" I asked Mother.

"Your father says it's what we need to get ahead, and it's not a bad idea. We'll make this work."

I smirked, knowing the only getting ahead would be for Daddy, now that he could do his skirt-chasing and boozing right at home, but it wasn't my place to tell Mother. The bar was built quickly, and well enough; Mother saw to it that the builders didn't cut corners and pocket our money and make a laughingstock of us.

I figured the bar would be closed in a few weeks or even sooner, but I was wrong. Mother knew how to make money, more money than Daddy could even lose or slip into his pocket. The first day we opened the doors, bums came in and rooted themselves on bar stools and didn't leave until we threw them out. I still wonder if they knew the kind of rotgut we were pouring. Daddy had the twins scrubbing labels off the cheapest beer he could find, then pasting on Falstaff or some other decent brand. Nobody complained. Those men just wanted some hole to climb in and some dirt to pull over themselves, and we had that hole and all the dirt they'd ever need.

Copyright © 2000 by Jervey Tervelon

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 6 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 6 Customer Reviews
  • Posted February 25, 2014

    more from this reviewer

    Great Book

    This book was really great from the first page to the last. The writing style was absolutely amazing. It told a story that kept your interest and portrayed remarkable characters. It was a story about love, family and with a taste of what life was like in New Orleans in the 1940's. Well worth reading.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted August 2, 2002

    What a Hit!!!

    This is the best book I have every read. I love this book,I recommend this book to everyone. The excitement and suspense makes the charters come alive. It's funy and you become so emotionally rapped up into the charters you realize this could be your family. This book makes you laugh out loud and it enters the deepest side of heartache. When you realize your heartaches over a charter in a book 'What a Hit!! this was a great book. I read this book over a year ago and it feel like yesterday, I tell all my friends about it. I even bought my sister her own copy.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 5, 2002

    I DARE YOU TO READ THIS BOOK!

    I LOVE THIS BOOK. I READ IT IN LESS THAN 24 HRS! I MAY NOT HAVE DELVED AS DEEP AS SOME READERS, BUT I THOUGHT IT WAS A GOOD READ. IT WAS A FEW YEARS AGO THAT I READ IT, BUT I WANT TO READ IT AGAIN FOR MORE CLARITY. NOT TOO MUCH SEX TALK LIKE SOME BOOKS I HAVE READ, EVEN THOUGH THEIR ARE HOOKERS TALKED ABOUT. (IF MY MEMORY IS CORRECT) THE PASSAGE GIVEN DOESN'T DO THIS BOOK JUSTICE, B/C THEY DON'T WON'T TO GIVE AWAY THE STORY.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 5, 2001

    has potential, but never makes it

    The book/storyline/characters started out quite strong, but i was disappointed in all three by the end. Many of the interesting themes that the author brought out, he failed to develop. For example, how did a strong woman like Lita's mother, not just end up with, but be so in love with a guy like an abusive idiot like her father? Although, it surely happens in life, there is usually some explanation for it. Here, there was none, other than author's wimpy line through Mother about how sometimes life just doesn't work the way you think it will. Not good enough. Also, though Adele was a central character, she was sorely underdeveloped. In the beginnging she was basically presented as a man-chasing good-time girl. But later, she changed and though you saw it, you had no real idea why the change happened or whether it was genuine. 'Daddy' too, was rather one-dimensional, although we see a different side to him in 'Mother's flashback'. I just kept wondering what made these characters tick. It could have been a much richer story had the author attempted to portray his characters with greater depth. I did like, however, the evocative scenes of New Orleans and the life of the 'coloreds' there. I liked that the author was frank about how light-skinned blacks would, with varying degrees of confliction, use their ability to pass to suit their purpose. I don't really recommend the book, but it won't be a complete waste of time if you read it.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 8, 2000

    Southern murder/suspence

    This book has a wonderful flow. I read it in two days. Dead Above Ground is genius work. The portrayal of the wild family drama was very true to life. All of the ladies out there that are hooked on good looks and smooth talking men will think twice when they read this book. Helen, Lita's mom was a strong woman who allowed herself to be mistreated by her husband. This banishes the stereotype of abused women, are only those that are helpless. I was happy to see that Lita broke the cycle of abuse. Although her husband's possessive ways could have gotten out of hand if it wasn't for her strong will.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 30, 2000

    Love is blind.......

    Indeed love is blind. This is what happened to Ruby in Jervey's novel. Her love for Lucien was so blind that she didn't think of how much that would affect her daughter Adele in the future. This is one of the themes that I best enjoyed from this novel. I read this book in exactly 2 days. It was very easy to understand, this type of book is the kind that I would recommend anyone who just wants to read for their own personal enjoyment. Jervey is one of the authors that I admire for his desire to let other people come into his life to explore his roots in his writtings. Overall, good job Jervey!!!!

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