Excerpt from Blue Skies by T.C. Boyle, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Blue Skies

A Novel

by T.C. Boyle

Blue Skies by T.C. Boyle X
Blue Skies by T.C. Boyle
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  • Published:
    May 2023, 384 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Katharine Blatchford
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They Were Like Jewelry

They were like jewelry, living jewelry, and she could see herself wearing one wrapped round her shoulders to Bobo's or the Cornerstone and sitting at a sidewalk table while people strolled by and pretended not to notice. It would make a statement, that was for sure. She'd put on a tube top so you could see the contrast it made with her bare skin—black, definitely black, and she'd wear her black jeans too and maybe her fedora—and she'd just look down at her drink or up at Todd as if nothing were out of the ordinary. And he'd go along with it too, she was sure he would—they were in that phase of their relationship where he'd given her a ring and they'd moved in together and she could have just about anything she wanted.

Except a baby. Are you joking, or what? I'm no way even close to being ready for that, and plus the expense, Jesus. He wouldn't let her have a dog either—or even a cat. He was allergic. Hair. Dander. Fleas. And did she have any idea of what his parents had to spend on inhalers and injections and the rest of it when he was a kid? She didn't. And at this point she didn't care. Talk about impulse buying—the minute she walked through the door and saw them glittering there in their plexiglass cases she knew she had to have one.

The shop was called Herps and it was located on the fringe of the shopping district, where the fast-food places were and the auto supply and a couple hole-in-the-wall Haitian and Cuban restaurants. She wouldn't even have noticed it, let alone pushed through the door, if she hadn't been so bored. Todd was having the car detailed and he couldn't just leave it there and trust them to do the job—no, he had to look over their shoulders while they plied their rags and toothbrushes and sealants, making sure they were on top of it. That was just the way he was, a perfectionist, and he liked to say that the two of them were a good match because she was an imperfectionist. Which might have been passive-aggressive but really wasn't far from the truth. So opposites attract—wasn't that the way of biology?

She'd been looking for a bar, thinking a mojito would brighten her afternoon, when she saw the snake there in the window, thick as a truck tire and stretched out on an artificial branch canted up off the floor at a forty-five-degree angle. It was chocolate-colored, with gold latticework that ran the length of it like a pattern in a catalogue. Its eyes were hard cold beads. Its tongue flicked in and out. Most of all, it was present in a way most things in this world definitely weren't. She stared at it for a long moment, falling into a kind of trance till the reflection of a car wheeling by on the street behind her brought her out of it. Of course, she'd seen snakes before—at the zoo, in the nature films on TV, smeared across the blacktop on one country road or another—but she'd never really looked at one, not until now, when the abstraction and the actual fused into an idea, a want, a need, a sudden need so pressing it constricted her throat. She paused a moment to dig the Dasani bottle out of her purse and take a long lukewarm swallow before she swung round and stepped inside.

The place was dimly lit, all the light radiating from the individual display cases. The cases lined the walls and stood end to end on low tables in the middle of the room, some with lizards or frogs or turtles isolated inside them, but most with snakes, which lay there motionless like so many bolts of material in a fabric shop. There was a smell too, subtle and dry, a smell of process, and she thought about that, the snakes unhinging their jaws to take in their prey—mice or rats, wasn't it? Or rabbits for the big ones. And then what? Shitting, she supposed. Snake shit, and what was that like? Was that what she was smelling? They must have pissed too, though she'd read somewhere they reabsorbed most of their moisture. Or maybe Cooper had told her, her brother the biologist, who knew everything. The snakes barely stirred, but for the one right in front of her nosing in slow motion at the clear plastic lid of its container, so calm and unhurried it could have been narcotized. It was a snake in a box and it had nowhere to go—the box was everything, the box was the world—which somehow struck her as sad. Shouldn't they have more room—a terrarium where they could stretch out to their full length, with rocks and dirt or at least sand? Didn't snakes like sand? Or was that only desert snakes? The term sidewinder came into her head along with the quick flash of an image from a nature show, a dun snake looping across a barren landscape, the engine of its own intention. But this one, the one before her, was beautiful, they all were, as if somebody had dipped a brush in acrylics and traced the lines that radiated in a widening V from their mouths to draw reticulate patterns across their backs and down their sides. She was drifting from case to case, peering inside, shopping, when a guy was there suddenly, appearing from a door in back she hadn't noticed, and she realized he must have been watching her on closed-circuit TV, maybe from one of those ergonomic office chairs you could push all the way back till you were practically levitating because there was no reason for him to be on his feet in a deserted store in the middle of the day.

Excerpted from Blue Skies by T.C. Boyle. Copyright © 2023 by T.C. Boyle. Excerpted by permission of Liveright/W.W. Norton. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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