I’m so happy summer has arrived that I noticed myself skipping the other day. I’m not a cold weather gal and this past winter was a test on my sanity. I broke it up by two trips to the sunny south, which gave me the motivation to carry on until the spring thaw. If you live in a cold climate like I do, you know that warming your bones on a mid-winter holiday can be a life saver.
But every so often a vacation just doesn’t cooperate with your expectations.
When my feet hit solid ground on the morning of January 4th, 2008, I swore that I would never step foot on a cruise ship again. The first four days of the cruise had been wonderful: sunny skies, friendly people, fantastic food. I celebrated my birthday with frothy drinks by the pool and partied away New Year’s Eve on the main deck with the rest of the passengers. The new year was looking exceptionally happy as we headed toward the Bahamas. Life was good.
Enter black sky.
Know what can move a 12-storey, solid steel, floating hotel? Waves. Really big waves. And when I say “move,” what I actually mean is rock, pitch, jolt, hammer, and pummel. For three days straight.
Know what’s (not) fun? Every single detail about being on a cruise ship in the middle of a tropical storm. I’ll spare you the gory details, but just know that there wasn’t a person aboard—guest or crew member—who wasn’t suffering from acute nausea. And I do mean suffering. We found out later that the waves crested at 17 feet. That’s the kind of luck I have, which is exactly why I never gamble; it’s a sure loss.
But our storm was mild for those who have lived through a hurricane. Like other catastrophic weather patterns, a hurricane will destroy everything in its path, something that the residents of Heron Key, Florida know all too well.
Vanessa Lafaye’s debut novel, Under a Dark Summer Sky, brings to life the frustration and outright desperation of the American South during the Great Depression. Disgruntled over poor treatment from non-soldiers and government officials alike, a group of World War I veterans descend on Heron Key when offered jobs in construction. Their presence disrupts the fragile balance between the black and white residents, and prejudices, insecurities, and old hostilities bubble to the surface.
A Fourth of July barbeque—a celebration that everyone in town looks forward to each year—takes a sour turn when some of the veterans arrive drunk on liquor and resentment. Fights break out, threats ensue and a white woman is beaten nearly to death on her walk home. Suspicion immediately lands on a black veteran, despite any physical evidence, and talks of a lynching begin circulating.
As tensions and fears mount, the barometer plummets. Under a Dark Summer Sky is the story of the residents of Heron Key, in 1935, as they face nearly intolerable levels of stress, suspicion, and cruelty, all while staring down the eye of a hurricane. Mankind is capable of much destruction, but it is no match for Mother Nature. Once she hits, the residents of Heron Key must decide which battles are worth fighting, and which battles are worth fighting together.
In the midst of chaos, Under a Dark Summer Sky is ultimately a tale of familial bonds and enduring love, with a little voodoo magic tossed in. Written in stunningly descriptive prose, it is Vanessa Lafaye’s debut novel. Sourcebooks Landmark, 2015.