Jean Thompson Wide Blue Yonder: A Novel

ISBN 13: 9780743205122

Wide Blue Yonder: A Novel

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9780743205122: Wide Blue Yonder: A Novel
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During the summer of 1999, Springfield, Illinois, becomes the center of a climatic, emotional, and metaphysical storm as four unlikely people--Uncle Harvey, his troubled teenage niece Josie, Josie's desperate mother Elaine, and Rolando, a loner fueled by rage--find themselves at the center of the vortex. By the author of Who Do You Love. 35,000 first printing.

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About the Author:

Jean Thompson is the author of Who Do You Love: Stories, a 1999 National Book Award finalist for fiction, and the novels City Boy and Wide Blue Yonder, a New York Times Notable Book and Chicago Tribune Best Fiction selection. She lives in Urbana, Illinois. Visit her at www.jeanthompsononline.com.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Chapter One: There Is Always Weather

Beige Woman was saying Strong Storms. She brushed her hand over the map and drew bands of color in her wake. All of Illinois was angry red. A cold front currently draped across Oklahoma, a raggedy spiderweb thing, was going to scuttle eastward and slam up against your basic Warm Moist Air From the Gulf. The whole witch's brew had been bubbling up for the last few days and now it was right on the doorstep. Beige Woman dropped her voice half an octave to indicate the serious nature of the situation, and Local Forecast nodded to show he understood.

Then he got up to see if the coffee was ready. It wasn't quite; he stood watching it drip drip drip. When he poured milk in his cup it swirled like clouds. The sky outside was milk as well, milk over thin blue. Local Forecast stood on the back porch steps and turned his nose to the southwest, where all the trouble would come from later. He sniffed and squinted and tried to tease the front out of the unhelpful sky, but it stayed as shut as any door.

Back inside it was Man In A Suit's turn. He stood, palm up, balancing Texas by its tip. Texas was green today. Florida was full of orange suns. Man In A Suit tickled the Atlantic coastline and whorls of ridged white sprang up, high pressure. Then jet stream arrows came leaping out of the northwest, blue and swift, full of icy glittering.

There was always Weather. And every minute there was a new miracle.

Coffee and cereal, then fifteen toe touches. Fat Cat rubbed at his ankles and got in the way. He couldn't reach his toes anymore. He got all purply and out of breath. He was old. Plus it was humid this morning, 93 percent, as you might expect on a Strong Storms day. He let his head hang and peered at the screen from between his legs. He had a glimpse of upside-down palm trees, which puzzled him for a moment before he straightened and collided with the couch, anxious to get turned around and watch properly.

Tropical Update. He'd almost forgotten, with all the storm news. It was June the First, official start of Hurricane Season. Now he'd missed it and would have to wait through twenty minutes of insurance commercials and such before the next Update. He settled back in the couch. Fat Cat poured into his lap and solidified there, thrumming away. The big map was on and he fixed his eyes on the exact center of Illinois, You Are Here, the place the Weather lived.

Of course, you didn't get hurricanes in Illinois. You couldn't have everything. For hurricanes there were special people to show you how bad it was. The ocean going lumpy and gray as the storm moved in. Then came the galloping wires and sideways rain and the riven treetops. The announcer all tied up in a parka hood and staggering to keep upright. Water droplets blurring the camera lens. Local Forecast felt his heart grow large, thinking of their bravery. Sometimes if it was really bad, they were only voices on the phone, a lonely scratched-up sound that left you to imagine the shriek and slam of those water-soaked winds, the darkness closing in.

The blue screen came on. The Local Forecast. Blue blue blue, deep glowing indigo, like an astronaut would see from outer space. As long as there was the blue, there would be Weather.

He had to pee. He always had to pee nowadays, nothing down there worked the way it should. He got up, spilling his lapful of insulted cat. And wouldn't you know, when he got back from flushing, the Update had started and any second now they'd show the names. Names for the new hurricane season, storms that hadn't been born yet. Ocean currents not yet warmed, wind: not yet beginning to eddy. Come on come on come on.

Arlene, Bert, Cindy, Dennis, Emily, Floyd, Gert, Harvey...

His eyes stopped right there. Harvey was his other name.

And since there were, as Man In A Suit said, an average of nine named storms every season and six hurricanes, the odds were on his side. He pitied people with names like Rita or Stan, who were pretty much out of the running. Hurricane Harvey! The mere possibility sent him bounding around the room, making hurricane noises. Hurricane Harvey, a spinning white spiral tilting now toward Florida, now toward the Bahamas, considering a jaunt up the East Coast. People boarding up windows and laying in batteries and bottled water. Waves eating beach houses bite by bite. Of course you wouldn't want anyone to die. He'd feel terrible. He hoped at least he'd be an American hurricane, where they could handle these things a little better.

Meanwhile there were Strong Storms to worry about, no more than twelve hours away. His skin prickled with energy. Godamighty. He stood in the shower and yodeled. The steam from the shower mixed with the clammy air so the shower was more or less wasted, but who cared. He hopped around the room one-legged to get his pants on, then fell back, oof, on the bed. He paddled himself upright and launched himself out the front door, but first he turned the sound down on the Weather so they'd get a break from talking while he was gone.

There was one street you walked to get to the grocery and another street you took on the way back. Local Forecast kept his feet moving smartly along in spite of the heat. Humidity was down to 84 percent, still darn high. The miserability index. The grocery doors whooshed open and the cold canned air blessed the back of his neck. Lettuce bread lightbulbs cat food hamburger hamburger hamburger. He grabbed a cart and skated down the aisle.

"Whoa there, Harvey."

Bump bump. Local Forecast looked up. The carts were all tangled together in a chrome thicket. The stranger made a tsk sound and reached down to unhook them.

"What's the big hurry? Not fixing to rain, is it?"

"Sunny, high in the mid-eighties. Becoming cloudy by mid-day. Showers and thunderstorms possible by late afternoon. Some of these storms could be severe, with heavy rains and damaging winds. Chance of rain seventy percent."

"That so," the stranger said agreeably. He had a big pink face and shiny eyeglasses. Local Forecast waited for him to go away but he turned his cart around and walked it alongside Local Forecast, like the two of them were mothers pushing baby carriages together. "Well, then I'm going to need some rainy-day groceries."

He steered them down the produce aisle. Grapefruit mooned at them. The pears had sly little puckering faces. There were apples polished like headlights. Heaps of green things, cucumbers and celery and mops of spinach. They were nothing you could imagine inside of you.

"Are you eating enough vegetables, Harve? Roughage? Antioxidants? Important stuff at our age."

Local Forecast ran his cart into a pyramid of cantaloupes and stood there, trying to remember. Lettuce bread.

"How about some oranges? Vitamin C."

Local Forecast shook his head politely and righted the cart. He fumbled with a lettuce, then decided against it. The store had too many lights and big slick puddles of shine lay all over the floor. He ended up at the meat counter, clutching the edge of the case as if it was the rail of a ship. There were trays of pink, skinned-looking things down there in the frosty air.

The voice was at his elbow again. "Lean meat and nothing fried. That's the ticket."

Local Forecast waved a hand, the way you'd brush at a fly.

"Harvey, don't you remember who I am?"

He stared up at the pink face until eyes came out from behind the glasses. Two wriggled eyebrows and an upper lip scraped as clean as the veal cutlets in front of him. Ed.

He must have said it out loud because the stranger (Ed?) pumped his face up and down. "That's right. Ed Pauley. Sure. You remember. I've known you ever since high school. Time marches on."

Time marched on. Local Forecast could hear it making gravelly sounds while he thought about School. He had it in a book somewhere at home. Mostly h

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