Cover image for Dead above ground
Dead above ground
Tervalon, Jervey.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York : Pocket Books, [2000]

Physical Description:
226 pages ; 23 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
X Adult Fiction Central Closed Stacks
X Adult Fiction African American

On Order



In 1940s New Orleans, a light-skinned Black family moves back and forth across the color line.

Author Notes

Jervey Tervalon is an award winning poet, screenwriter and dramatist. His debut novel Understand This, won the 1994 New Voices Award from the Quality Paperback Book Club. He has contributed to The Los Angeles Times, Details and other publications. He lives in California with his wife and child and teaches creative writing at California State University at Los Angeles.

(Bowker Author Biography)



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 Excerpted from Dead above Ground by Jervey Tervalon All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.