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The Pleasing Hour: A Novel by [Lily King]
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The Pleasing Hour: A Novel Kindle Edition

3.9 out of 5 stars 365 ratings

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Editorial Reviews

About the Author

Lily King studied at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Syracuse University, where she won the Raymond Carver Prize for fiction. A MacDowell Colony fellow, her stories have appeared in Ploughshares and Glimmer Train. She lives with her husband and daughter in Cambridge, Massachusetts. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

Chapter One: Plaire

Plaire is not a wealthy town. It is not one of those immaculate, romantic villages described in books about the south of France. Its streets are not made of cobblestones or clogged with visitors in the hot months. It does not have red cliffs, or châteaux, or the carapace of a fortress. The churches are unremarkable, the café terraces viewless. In the afternoon the narrow streets grow sinister, blackened by enormous shadows with clawed edges that slowly scale the pitted stucco walls. Half-dead ivy creeps down to meet them. Even at two o'clock on a bright spring day, you can turn down one of those streets and all light and heat will be gone. You will have to wait until your eyes have adjusted to move on. Through the slats of closed green shutters above, you can hear music or the sound of water in a basin or heavy plates being stacked or unstacked. The grocery bags will start to cut into your fingers, and the two miles back will seem, from that dark street, unachievable. But once you reach the valley, and Lucie Quenelle's farmhouse appears on the next rise, there seem to be seven suns stretching across the sky, each one celebrating your return.

She is waiting for me in the garden. I can see her straw hat twitching as she swats at something. At the sound of my sandals through the grass, a smile appears just below the hat's brim. It does not feel like penitence to be here with this old woman, though I know it should.

Once she sets me to work on the table grapes with her, it doesn't take her long to start in with more questions. She has so many, mostly about Nicole.

"She was very careful as a child, deliberate. Is she still?"

"Yes." I try to be curt, entirely uninterested.

"And so equable."

"Yes."

"Perhaps you are too young to know exactly what I mean."

"Perhaps," I say, feeling too old to argue.

She's teaching me how to rewire the trunks of the vines to their posts. Beside her quick spotted hands, mine work clumsily.

"Would you say she's happy, Nicole? Would you say she married the right man?"

"I don't know." But she wants more. She will not stop until she's wrung me dry.
"He's not a man I would have married," I add.

"Why not?"

I can't think of one word to throw her off.

"It's hard to pinpoint, isn't it?" she says, furrowing her entire face. "But there's something about this Marc Tivot. A man should never make you feel old."

"She looks half her age," I say, deliberately misunderstanding, veering away. "She's in good shape. She's healthy, nimble -- "

"Nimble! Where did you learn a word like nimble? Sometimes you surprise me with the words you know. How is it that you can have such an extensive vocabulary but absolutely no memory for the definite articles?"

"I don't know. It's just a block I have," I say, embarrassed my errors have been noticed already.

Nicole's daughter, Lola, always insisted it was obvious. Look, she said, running to the table she had just set, a knife is masculine and a spoon is feminine. Look at them. You can just tell. Look at this plate. It's a girl's face. And this glass, it's a man. Can't you see it? Lola had bangs and a birthmark on her ring finger and pronounced my name, Rosie, with the best unrolled r in the family.

"Here. Not so tight. Please," she says with sudden impatience. "You're strangling the poor thing. And look down here. His roots are being pulled up."

"Sorry." I let go the vine.

"I love this earth." She squeezes a fistful and, when she releases it, it keeps the hollows of her fingers and the sharp peaks between them. I feel her smiling, waiting for me to look up. But I can't receive her at times: her pale eyes, her pressed white collar and the triangle of scaled skin it reveals, her nimble hands working the earth. Leste. All my words lead back to that family.

Marc called me nimble during my first week in Paris when I caught the glass at dinner. Their son had knocked it hard off the edge, reaching for the lemon syrup, and I caught it, a full glass of water falling from the table. Marc called me leste and the whole family looked at me, everyone but Nicole, like I might work miracles.

"Look at you. You're freezing," she says, leaving a hand on my bare leg. "The body is so beautiful when it's young. Enjoy it, Rosie."

But I can't feel anything -- not her withered hand or the earth she loves or the suns that are still blazing above us -- and I know if there's one thing I ache to abandon it is my body.

"You are eighteen, nineteen?"

"Nineteen."

"What on earth could make a child of nineteen so..." She studies me for a word that thankfully never comes. "When I was nineteen," she continues, "we moved here, to Plaire. Nicole's family lived right tip there, through those trees, which in those days weren't so high. You could see their house, from here, and the sun, as it fell below those mountains. But everything's higher now. Or maybe I've shrunk. I don't know what's different today about the sun and the air, but then the sky would go purple sometimes -- not purple, exactly, but mauve. That's what Nicole's mother called it."

"You knew her mother?" It is an odd image, Nicole as a child.

"She was seventeen years younger than me, but she ended up being the closest friend I ever had. She told me that when she was a little girl she'd sit on her grandfather's porch in Roussillon and have tea and cakes during the mauve hour. I never hear the word mauve without thinking of her, but the light's changed since then. Anyway, I think it's probably time."

"Yes."

"But we've done quite a lot today. Thank you."

She is giving me room, board, and two hundred francs a week, but she has thanked me every evening of the three weeks that I've been here.

We put the tools and the wire back in the broken basket and follow the path through the roses to the back door. She takes my arm on the steps for balance. "Ah," she says. "Can't you smell the stew? You were right to put in that extra basil." She gives my arm a good tug as if she might be falling, then casts off from me altogether as we enter the house.

After dinner I will write my sister a one-sentence postcard with no return address: Walked the path van Gogh walked with his bloody ear. It's a lie -- a place Lucie Quenelle has told me about farther south.

In the New Hampshire house with the red door -- and the gold slot into which these cards are dropped -- live my sister, her husband, and the baby I gave them. All I can hope is when that child has words he will tell them the things I cannot. Perhaps my whole life here in France will spill out of his mouth.

Copyright &copy; 1999 by Lily King
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Product details

  • ASIN ‏ : ‎ B004CFAT0U
  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Grove Press (March 22, 2010)
  • Publication date ‏ : ‎ March 22, 2010
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • File size ‏ : ‎ 6842 KB
  • Text-to-Speech ‏ : ‎ Enabled
  • Screen Reader ‏ : ‎ Supported
  • Enhanced typesetting ‏ : ‎ Enabled
  • X-Ray ‏ : ‎ Enabled
  • Word Wise ‏ : ‎ Enabled
  • Print length ‏ : ‎ 258 pages
  • Lending ‏ : ‎ Enabled
  • Customer Reviews:
    3.9 out of 5 stars 365 ratings

About the author

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Lily King grew up in Massachusetts and received her B.A. in English Literature from University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and her M.A. in Creative Writing from Syracuse University. She has taught English and Creative Writing at several universities and high schools in this country and abroad.

Lily’s first novel, The Pleasing Hour (1999) won the Barnes and Noble Discover Award and was a New York Times Notable Book and an alternate for the PEN/Hemingway Award. Her second, The English Teacher, was a Publishers Weekly Top Ten Book of the Year, a Chicago Tribune Best Book of the Year, and the winner of the Maine Fiction Award. Her third novel, Father of the Rain (2010), was a New York Times Editors Choice, a Publishers Weekly Best Novel of the Year and winner of both the New England Book Award for Fiction and the Maine Fiction Award. Lily's new novel, Euphoria, was released in June 2014. It has drawn significant acclaim so far, being named an Amazon Book of the Month, on the Indie Next List, and hitting numerous summer reading lists from The Boston Globe to O Magazine and USA Today. Reviewed on the cover of The New York Times, Emily Eakin called Euphoria, “a taut, witty, fiercely intelligent tale of competing egos and desires in a landscape of exotic menace.”

Lily is the recipient of a MacDowell Fellowship and a Whiting Writer's Award. Her short fiction has appeared in literary magazines including Ploughshares and Glimmer Train, as well as in several anthologies.

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3.9 out of 5 stars
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