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The Hard Blue Sky
     

The Hard Blue Sky

5.0 8
by Shirley Ann Grau
 

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“An arresting and beautifully written novel” about a young woman who yearns to escape her life in Louisiana, by a Pulitzer Prize–winning author (TheNew York Times).
 West of New Orleans among a few small Gulf islands lies the Isle aux Chiens, a tiny, impoverished strip of land burdened by intolerable heat and roaming

Overview

“An arresting and beautifully written novel” about a young woman who yearns to escape her life in Louisiana, by a Pulitzer Prize–winning author (TheNew York Times).
 West of New Orleans among a few small Gulf islands lies the Isle aux Chiens, a tiny, impoverished strip of land burdened by intolerable heat and roaming packs of wild dogs. Here a handful of Creole families eke out a meager existence by fishing the Gulf waters. Such is the fate of Al Landry and his seventeen-year-old daughter, Annie. All Annie has ever known is the wild sea, but she longs for other people and places, including the glamor of life in the Big Easy. When a cruel, handsome man from the city passes through, he kindles Annie’s fantasies for a life beyond the island. Soon, the young girl faces a decision: remain planted in the predictable life she has always known, or toss it all aside for her dreamed-of adventure. The Hard Blue Sky is Grau’s debut novel, establishing her as a chronicler of bayou life and the complexities of the Deep South’s most impoverished corners. This ebook features an illustrated biography of Shirley Ann Grau, including rare photos and never-before-seen documents from the author’s personal collection.

Editorial Reviews

Kirkus Reviews
New Orleans—based Grau, who won a Pulitzer for The Keepers of the House (1965), first published this tale of wild life on the bayou in 1958, and Kirkus found the same "special qualities" it had discerned in her first book, The Black Prince (1955). Grau's primitive island dwellers, "alien and apart and tempered by the whims of the sea and the sky," feud, disappear, betray, and seduce one another, and die and go mad like the rest of us. But Kirkus demurred at the book's length, suggesting that Grau's talent was "more comfortable within the narrower margins of the short story." Here, the "more ambitious" novel suffers from "an absence of plot," and the subtle perceptions are "dissipated" over time. Admiring the "somnolent fascination" of Grau's island world, Kirkus also marveled at how it shaped "the vitality and violence" of the lives in the novel, at once "very realistic," but with "an unquestionable lyricism."

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781453247242
Publisher:
Open Road Media
Publication date:
04/10/2012
Sold by:
Barnes & Noble
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
468
Sales rank:
31,523
File size:
2 MB

Read an Excerpt

The Hard Blue Sky


By Shirley Ann Grau

OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA

Copyright © 1958 Shirley Ann Grau
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4532-4724-2



CHAPTER 1

THE WHITE AFTERNOON


"Guess what I seen from the top of that old tree there," Robby Livaudais said, "guess what?"

He was just another island kid, small for his age and thin, with black eyes set too close together over the high bridge of his nose. Like the other boys', his head had been shaved in June; now, in early August, the stiff black bristles stood straight up, unevenly. He was wearing a pair of striped overalls fastened on just one shoulder; the other strap had been torn off. The legs had been cut off, too, when the knees were worn through, and never hemmed. There was a fringe of thread on them now. Whenever Robby had nothing else to do, he would set himself to unraveling a bit.

"I seen a sailboat heading right this way."

"Go way, and quit bothering us," Gus Claverie said.

"I seen a boat and I bet it Jean Lafitte coming."

The other kids did not look around. They were pushing the old tire that Menton Schesnaydre had hung by a rope from the strongest limb of the chinaberry tree.

Didi LeBlanc said: "It my turn."

"Leggo," Mercy Schesnaydre said.

They all yanked at the tire. Joey Billion, who was sitting in it, kicked at them.

"Jeez...." Gus Claverie gave the tire a spin, a hard spin, making it whirl on its heavy rope. Joey Billion fell out on his back.

"Look at him," Didi giggled, "making a big old puff of smoke."

Joey sat up and, twisting around, began to examine the back of his thighs. He picked out a couple of cinders and flicked them away.

"You know what I seen?" Robby repeated.

Gus put his leg through the tire and pushed himself off. Joey had to fall flat again as the swing whizzed over his head. Gus kicked at him, but missed. Joey laughed and rolled out of the way.

"I get me a knife and cut that there rope."

"Yaaa, toe cheese!" Gus went swinging back and forth, hanging by one arm and one leg.

"What you see?" Didi asked. Her hair was slightly longer and she was slightly taller—except for that, she looked like a boy. She was scratching her head with both hands as she asked Robby: "What you see?"

"A sailing-boat."

"A what?" Gus put down one leg and with a puff of dry dirt stopped the swing.

"Way, way out."

"It ain't there."

"They ain't no sailing-boats," Joey said.

"The Mickey Mouse now, that ain't got no sails."

"Not the Mickey Mouse nor the Saint Christopher, nor the Hula Girl nor the Captain Z."

Gus pushed the swing back and forth slowly. "There ain't nothing you see I want to look at."

"Bet it's somebody out shrimping and waving a handkerchief."

"Bet it's somebody been blowing his nose and drying the handkerchief," Didi said.

"I seen Lafitte coming," Robby said.


The afternoon got too hot for swinging. Joey went home. The others lay face down in the shade for a while and sweated.

"My Aunt Marie, she been by Arcenaux's this morning," Robby said and stared straight up into the sky. "She got a box sweet crackers. A big box."

They turned and were looking at him. Robby sat up and squared his shoulders. "She give me one to feed the fish this morning."

"What fish?" Mercy asked.

"The ones I'm growing under the house."

Didi giggled. "Got a mess of old half-dead fish."

"They growing all right."

"They stink."

"You got to show us," Mercy said.


Marie Livaudais was lying across the bed, in her slip, dozing on the heat of the white afternoon, and listening to the sounds all around her. The buzzing drone of wasps building a nest under the eaves outside the window. The sleepy squak of the chickens. The muffled talking of kids outside. Then the squeaking board in the kitchen. She did not bother to get up or open her eyes. She yelled: "Get out and stay out! Or I come fix you!"

There was a pause, a little pause and some soft brushing sounds.

"I hear you climbing out that window," she yelled.

Outside a kid giggled softly, behind his hand.

She listened again: nothing. She let herself slide back into her doze, wondering idly what they had taken.


They finished the box of graham crackers and stuffed it in the cracked trunk of the old chinaberry tree. Burt Richaud came, jangling a small net bag of marbles.

"I ain't gonna play," Robby said. Burt Richaud did not pay any attention. With the tip of his bare toe he drew a large circle in the soft dirt. Then he squatted down and stared at it.

The kids came up and stood around, waiting, carefully outside the circle line.

Burt put a single bright blue marble in the center of the circle. Then he stepped back and took out a cat's-eye. He held it up, between two fingers.

"That's a pretty one, for sure," Didi said.

"Never seen one so pretty," Mercy said.

"My papa brought it from Petit Prairie."

"Just a old marble," Robby said, and kicked with his heels in the dust, like a rooster.

"Bastard," Burt said. "Get out of here."

"He ain't got a mother," Didi said, "and he ain't got more than half a papa."

"Ain't so," Robby whispered. But he let Didi push him away.

The kids began their game. Robby watched them from a distance, quietly. Then he walked over to the tall thin palm tree. He squinted up along the trunk which curved very slightly away from the beach. And he began to climb.


Marie Livaudais scratched at her head. The sounds of the kids—the giggling and the laughing—irritated her. And the window shade kept blowing up in the light breeze and the sun flashed in her eyes. She recognized one of the voices: Robby's.

She wondered sometimes why she had offered to take him. As if she didn't have enough kids of her own....

He was a Livaudais all right. Looked like them. She saw that the very first time she ever laid eyes on him, that day the priest from Petit Prairie brought him over to his father.

He was three then, and had been staying with his mother. But she had found a husband. A man from Biloxi, a foreman in a lumberyard and a good steady man. She had told him Robby was her nephew, and just stopping with her for company.

When the time came for her to go to Biloxi, she took Robby down to the priest and told the name of his father, and left the boy there.

So Eddie Livaudais got his illegitimate son to raise. And because his wife, Belle, wasn't one to be kind to her husband's bastards, Marie Livaudais had taken him in.

And me, Marie thought, I got to go opening my big mouth, and go saying I put him with my kids. All together....

It was too hot for the pillow. She pushed it to the floor and bent her arm. The window shade flapped closed again. She sighed and stretched.


Robby was at the top of the tree. He yanked off a couple of the small hard yellow dates and, leaning out away from the trunk, he squinted carefully and dropped them. Didi LeBlanc jumped straight up in the air. The other kids looked at her without moving. She stood with her hands down stiff at her sides, her mouth wide open, her eyes shut, screaming. From the tree Robby dropped another date, but missed: it plopped into the dirt. Didi kept on screaming.

A little gust of wind released the spring and sent the shade flying up. Marie Livaudais heaved herself out of bed, mumbling softly under her breath. The damp slip stuck to her legs and she yanked it free as she went out on the porch.

She yelled at the kids, waving her arms. One of her big breasts popped over the top of her slip, but she did not seem to notice.

Marie looked up the palm tree, squinted, and then stomped down into the yard, hands on her hips.

"Come on down out of that tree there, that's been leaning and shaking in every little wind, before you break you fool neck!"

The boy in the tree did not move. He wrapped his legs tighter around the trunk and yelled: "Yaaaaaa, toe cheese."

She gave one more quick look up the tree and then began to scan the ground. She crossed the yard, pushing aside the kids and stepping through the middle of the circle of marbles.

She found what she was looking for: a piece of brick. She weighed it in her hand, decided it was too heavy and smashed it on an oyster shell. She picked up the two largest pieces and looked up the tree again. Then she closed one eye and very carefully and deliberately threw the first piece. It hit Robby's hip. He yelped but did not move. She walked around the tree and threw the other; it clipped him in the center of the back.

He slid down the trunk quickly. The bark burned the inside of his legs, and he was rubbing them when she caught up with him.

"Sal au pri!" She grabbed him by one arm and almost lifted him up. He began to cry.

She yelled back at him: "I got a mind to shake you till you brains fall out or you get some sense. And there ain't no telling which come first."

His eyes shut tight, he screamed. The other kids came up in a circle, their heads sticking forward on their necks, watching.

"Hey," Burt said. "He's popping blood all around, him."

"Where you bleeding?" Marie said. "Where?"

Robby stopped yelling and opened his eyes. He pointed to his legs. There were long red brushburns down the inner sides, still with pieces of the heavy rough bark sticking to them.

Marie half carried, half dragged the boy up the steps and into the house. "All I got to do is take a rest, me, and you go find a way to mess yourself up good, and come screaming to me."

"You hit me," Robby wailed.

"And you got to say a prayer to the Blessed Mother that you didn't come falling down with that tree that's been shaking at its roots for I don't know how many years, and you jumping around up at its top, like you was a monkey, and nothing come falling down."

She sat him on a kitchen chair. The other kids crowded up to the screen door. She got a bottle of iodine from the corner of the cupboard and smeared it across the brushburns. He yelled. She reached up and got a piece of sugar. "Open up you mouth."

She dropped a lump in and yanked her finger away fast. "Ha! ... I ain't so stupid I don't know what you thinking." She went back to work with the iodine. "Ain't gonna bite me."

Burt said: "He going to be decorated up like a Christmas tree, him."

"You pay no mind to them," Marie said and glared at them over her shoulder. "They ain't got nothing but dirty feet and dirty noses and not one handkerchief."

He bent over studying the stained skin on his legs, pulling the broken skin apart with his fingertips.

"Quit that!" She moved over to the sink, took down a cup, shook a little bit of Octagon soap powder in it, filled it up with water so that the suds spilled over the rim. "I almost forgot me what you call me, still up in that tree that ain't no more than just brushing in the ground and shaking all over while you was up there."

He began to whimper again. Over at the door, the kids shuffled and pressed their noses on the screen.

She dragged a wood kitchen chair in front of the sink. With her still holding his arm, he scrambled up.

She swished the suds around in the cup. "You remember what you was calling me."

He nodded, his eyes on the yellowish soapsuds.

"You just keep thinking on that, and you start saying the Hail Mary and praying to God you tongue don't drop out with cancer for saying things like that."

He didn't move. He only rubbed one bare foot against the other ankle.

"You started, huh?"

He nodded again.

She released his shoulder and put that hand on the back of his head. She brought the cup of soapsuds up to his lips. He squirmed and kicked. The cup made a little clinking sound against his teeth.

"Quit, you," she said, "before I bust you teeth like they was acorns falling down."

She tilted the cup, and pressed his head back. "Open you teeth or I going to pry them up like a hound dog."

The water was running down his chin and splashing off the chair. His mouth filled. He blew the liquid out, opening his clenched teeth. She poured the rest of the soapsuds down and clamped her hand around his mouth. She shook his head then, just the way she would shake a jar she was washing out. "Jesus, Mary," she said, "you got to get you mouth clean out of words like that, talking like a trapper out in the marsh."

She held his head over the sink and took away her hand. He sputtered so that his whole body shook.

"Now wrench out."

He grabbed for the pitcher of water and took a mouthful from it.

She yanked it away from him. "Ain't you never learned to use a glass?"

She tasted the water and made a face. "Just wasting, and with the water so low that the wigglers is coming out the pipes." She sighed and went out on the porch. The kids scattered back to the edges, but she didn't notice them. She poured the pitcher of water on the four scraggly wax plants growing in the rusty coffee cans by the steps. She picked up the mop from where it hung handle down over the railing, shook the small bright red roaches out of the head and went inside to mop up the soapy puddle on the kitchen floor. Then she hung the mop out of the window.

Finally she turned on Robby. "You ain't moved?"

He shook his head.

"Get out of here," she said. "Go play around a million miles from here. Go feed the gars in the middle of the bay."

He scrambled away. The kids, who were still standing just the other side of the screen, pulled back to make room for him.

He scrambled away. The kids, who were still standing just the other side of the screen, pulled back to make room for him.

Once the door had slammed behind him, he stopped and looked at them. He let his lids fall until his eyes were half closed and he had to lift his chin to see.

"Jeez," Burt said.

Robby blew a little saliva bubble, slowly.

"Look at him," Didi said.

"He still bubbling," Mercy said.

"Jeez," Burt said.

Robby blew another bubble and, crossing his eyes, tried to look down at it. Then, because she was the closest, he grabbed hold of Didi's shirt front and pushed her off the porch. She didn't make a sound, just plopped down into the dirt. He made a wide left- handed swing at Burt, who ducked. He climbed to the top of the porch railing and jumped down from there, rolling over and over. Then he tried standing on his head.

Finally he stood up, blew a couple of bubbles very carefully, and started down the road. The other kids followed, first Didi, then Mercy and then Burt. Robby pretended not to notice them but every once in a while he turned and threw a handful of dust. And he swaggered so hard he wasn't even walking a straight line.


Half an hour later he was perched up on the highest limb of the camphor tree behind the Arcenaux grocery, while the other kids climbed restlessly around in the lower branches. When they tried to come up with him, he kicked them away. Finally they all settled down and watched the white-hulled sloop that was beating toward the island.


Ten minutes after he had cast off from the sloop Pixie Inky D'Alfonso was approaching Isle aux Chiens. He throttled down the outboard and came in slowly.

Ahead of him was the island, a long low strip, perfectly straight on this side. He didn't remember ever seeing such a straight line before. There was a sand-colored line and then a curving line of green, lifting up to a kind of point three quarters of the way to the east end. The trees looked glossy and heavy there.

He glanced over his shoulder. The sloop was moving east, on a reach now. And the main was luffing. A little.... Damn fool had no tiller hand....

The dinghy swayed and quivered. All he'd need, he told himself, was a spill overboard. He was a fool to get himself in a crazy trip like this. Nothing about it was right.

And then he grinned.... Nothing was right, except that he couldn't keep away from a sailboat.

He'd quit high school to crew on a West Indies job. And that was only the beginning....

He got a splash of murky sour water in his mouth. He spat and wiped his lips and got back to business.

He came in around the eastern end of the island, through the narrow pass between it and Isle Cochon, where the charts said there should have been a line of reflectors. The sand fringe went around this side of the island too. It looked white and soft to lie on.

But there was nobody on it, not even kids. Maybe the afternoon sun was too much for them. He circled the end of the island and saw that it was a kind of point, jutting northward. Farther down in the circle, he could see the rigging of a lugger. And even at this distance he could smell the tar of the nets.

He swung the dinghy down into the circle. The edges of this side of the island were marshy: he could see the alligator grass and the cattails and the saw grass. A yellow and black ricebird whizzed over his head.


(Continues...)

Excerpted from The Hard Blue Sky by Shirley Ann Grau. Copyright © 1958 Shirley Ann Grau. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Shirley Ann Grau (b. 1929) is a Pulitzer Prize–winning novelist of nine novels and short story collections, whose work is set primarily in her native South. Grau was raised in Alabama and Louisiana, and many of her novels document the broad social changes of the Deep South during the twentieth century, particularly as they affected African Americans. Grau’s first novel, The Hard Blue Sky (1958), about the descendants of European pioneers living on an island off the coast of Louisiana, established her as a master of vivid description, both for characters and locale, a style she maintained throughout her career. Her public profile rose during the civil rights movement, when her dynastic novel Keepers of the House (1964), which dealt with race relations in Alabama, earned her a Pulitzer Prize.

Shirley Ann Grau (b. 1929) is a Pulitzer Prize–winning novelist of nine novels and short story collections, whose work is set primarily in her native South. Grau was raised in Alabama and Louisiana, and many of her novels document the broad social changes of the Deep South during the twentieth century, particularly as they affected African Americans. Grau’s first novel, The Hard Blue Sky (1958), about the descendants of European pioneers living on an island off the coast of Louisiana, established her as a master of vivid description, both for characters and locale,a style she maintained throughout her career. Her public profile rose during the civil rights movement, when her dynastic novel Keepers of the House (1964), which dealt with race relations in Alabama, earned her a Pulitzer Prize.

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The Hard Blue Sky 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
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