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The Bad Behavior of Belle Cantrell: A Novel

The Bad Behavior of Belle Cantrell: A Novel

4.6 15
by Loraine Despres

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Belle Cantrell felt guilty about killing her husband and she hated that. Feeling guilty, that is. A lady shouldn't do something she's going to feel guilty about later, was a rule Belle kept firmly in mind.

So begins The Bad Behavior of Belle Cantrell, a story of murder, adultery, and regular church attendance, which introduces Belle Cantrell as a


Belle Cantrell felt guilty about killing her husband and she hated that. Feeling guilty, that is. A lady shouldn't do something she's going to feel guilty about later, was a rule Belle kept firmly in mind.

So begins The Bad Behavior of Belle Cantrell, a story of murder, adultery, and regular church attendance, which introduces Belle Cantrell as a beautiful young widow with a rebellious streak, years before she will become grandmother to Sissy LeBlanc, the feisty main character of Loraine Despres's bestselling The Scandalous Summer of Sissy LeBlanc.

The year is 1920, prohibition is in full swing, women are clamoring for the vote, and a narrow-minded intolerance is on the rise. Life isn't easy for an unmarried woman, not in a little town like Gentry, Louisiana, especially after she's sent to jail for swimming in an indecent bathing costume with a group of suffragists.

It's not as if Belle doesn't know how to behave. She knows the rules. She keeps the Primer of Propriety firmly in mind. But sometimes -- most of the time -- she has to twist the rules a little, or break them, or give them a permanent kink, because they all say the same thing: "Don't."

And a girl has got to live.

After a year and a half of mourning, Belle decides to get on with her life and kicks off a season of tumult that will change her and Gentry forever.

Sexy, sassy, with laugh-out-loud humor and a cast of zany characters you won't forget, The Bad Behavior of Belle Cantrell is a big comic love story and a page-turner. But it delves deeper, as Belle struggles to find her moral center and stand up to forces that are determined to destroy the soul of a town and the people she loves.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
In 1920s smalltown Louisiana, a woman who got her hair bobbed at a barbershop, bathed "indecently" and spent her free time carousing with her best friend's married Yankee brother would hardly be considered the portrait of a proper lady. But protagonist Belle Cantrell isn't after virtue, she's after independence. In this prequel to The Scandalous Summer of Sissy LeBlanc, Despres, herself a native Southerner, introduces readers to Sissy's grandmother, the strong-willed Belle of Gentry, La. The book opens with Belle confessing she feels no guilt for "killing" her husband of 16 years, Claude, and Despres successfully spins the rest of her story against a turbulent political backdrop. Belle (who has a horse named Susan B.) fights for women's right to vote, battles the local Ku Klux Klan and works as the overseer of the family property. Each chapter begins with a platitude plucked from Belle's Southern Girls' Guide ("Only a fool answers every question a man puts to her," etc.). Despres's galloping prose and Belle's consistent liveliness effectively cover the lack of much else, including the substance in the predictably dashing but dangerous Mr. LeBlanc, the man who becomes Sissy's grandfather. 6-city author tour. (Oct.) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
After The Scandalous Summer of Sissy LeBlanc, the story of Sissy's grandmother, who shocked 1920s Gentry, LA. With a six-city tour. Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Young widow tosses caution-and bloomers-to the wind in 1920s Louisiana. After losing her husband Claude the very day he returns from WWI, "flower of southern womanhood" Belle Cantrell bobs her hair in a symbolic gesture of emancipation that transforms her life, and shocks her small town of Gentry. Her narrow-minded neighbors should not be so surprised, since Belle is a remarkably forward-thinking former child bride who named her daughter after pioneering suffragist Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and who pays her loyal black employee Luther a "white man's wage." With Claude gone, Belle struggles with the guilty belief she may have "killed" her husband, who died in a saloon fight ostensibly defending her honor. (Seems there were some photographs of her being arrested in New Orleans on an "indecency" charge for swimming while wearing a too-revealing wool swimming costume.) Her grief is considerably eased when she takes up with Rafe Berlin, the shell-shocked vet brother of her best friend Rachel, who just happens to be Jewish. And a Yankee. And married. As if that were not enough, Belle tangles with Cajun scoundrel Beauregard "Bourree" LeBlanc, a sinfully attractive young man she hires to help her run the thriving farm Claude partially left to her. Belle's ill-advised dalliance with Bourree-whose idea of a wholesome family outing is to take Belle, her daughter and mother-in-law to a Ku Klux Klan picnic-sets in motion a rip-roaring chain of events. Soon, Belle is called upon to save Rafe and his family after the spurned Bourree convinces his white-sheeted "brothers" to go after the only Jews in Gentry. In this often funny prequel to The Scandalous Summer of Sissy LeBlanc (2001), former screenwriterDespres demonstrates a fine ear for witty dialogue, even if the moronic Klansmen and assorted bigots Belle squares off against make easy targets. Breezy and enjoyable despite some southern-fried cliches.

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The Bad Behavior of Belle Cantrell LP

By Loraine Despres

HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.

Copyright © 2005 Loraine Despres
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0060839651

Chapter One

Belle Cantrell felt guilty about killing her husband, and she hated that. Feeling guilty, that is. A lady shouldn't do something she's going to feel guilty about later was a rule Belle kept firmly in mind, along with its corollary: No sense in feeling guilty about all the little pleasures life has in store for you.

But Claude's death hadn't been a pleasure at all. She'd fallen in love with him at fifteen, galloping down clay roads with the leaves of autumn swirling around them. They'd discovered the nooks and crannies of passion in his mother's darkened parlor on a rolling sea of dark wine velvet, amid a flotilla of lacy white antimacassars, when his parents were away.

By sixteen she was pregnant. They married before the baby was born, and in spite of numerous and persistent offers, Belle had never had, nor wanted, another man in her sixteen years of married life. It wasn't as if she aspired to sainthood. She didn't even know if she'd have felt guilty about committing adultery, A lady shouldn't do something she's going to feel guilty about later. The Primer of Propriety but she knew better than to take the risk. Now, after almost a year and a half of mourning, a peculiar, guilty longing had begun to float around in the back waters of her mind, swamping her at odd moments.

She decided to bob her hair.

She squared her shoulders as she approached Arnold's barbershop, housed in the Nix Hotel, where traveling men slept on dirty sheets, laundered only occasionally but always freshly ironed between guests. She'd never been inside a barbershop. She'd read about exotic places called beauty parlors opening up in big cities, where they applied youth-restoring creams to a lady's face and knew all the secrets of curling irons, but if you wanted a haircut, you had to go to a barbershop. And in Gentry, Louisiana, that meant Arnold's.

She paused on the street. Red and white paint was flaking off the barber pole, showing the wood beneath it. Why hadn't she noticed it before? She peered through the plate-glass window, streaked with grime. A balding man sat in the second chair, hidden under shaving cream, while Arnold scraped his face with a straight-edged razor. Belle took a deep breath, drew herself up, and, with head held high, opened the screen door. The odor of day-old ashtrays and cheap cigars assaulted her. Arnold looked up, his razor raised. His gaze was not welcoming.

At that moment, her stepfather, Calvin Nix, owner of the hotel, sauntered in from the lobby. Mr. Nix was only five feet two, but he was quick and clean. He sat down in the first chair for his morning shave and Arnold's all-important, stress-reducing, laying on of hot towels. A shoeshine boy crouched in obeisance at his feet. Through the brown-speckled mirror, he saw his stepdaughter standing in the doorway. His face lit up. "What you doing here, sugar?" His voice was a shade too welcoming.

The smell of sulfur impregnated the air.

At that moment, Belle's mother, Blanche, stepped out of the front door of the hotel and onto the brick sidewalk. With her fine posture and thick salt-and-pepper hair arranged in an old-fashioned upsweep, she'd become one of Gentry's leading Matrons for Morality in her latter years. "Belle! What in tarnation do you think you're doing?"

Belle swung around. "Hey, Mama."

Blanche Nix glared. There was enough impropriety lurking in the memories of the high-minded residents of Gentry without her daughter providing her with any extra sources of embarrassment. "You ought to be ashamed of yourself. You know a barbershop's no place for a decent lady."

A high-pitched whistle shrieked.

Belle turned and saw the nine-thirty train to New Orleans rumble into the depot across the street, belching out great clouds of sooty smoke. She had fifteen dollars in her purse. She let the screen door bounce behind her.

Blanche shook her head as she watched her daughter run for the train.

Two hours later Belle was standing in the barbershop of the Monteleone Hotel in New Orleans, where gleaming plate-glass mirrors reflected brass chandeliers, and expensive aftershave lotions perfumed the air. A rotund barber turned. If he was surprised to see her, he didn't let on. Belle pulled herself up into her best imitation of a Southern aristocrat. "Does anyone here know how to bob a lady's hair?" Her voice was clear. It didn't break once.

"Yes, ma'am. I surely do. Now you just sit right down," the barber said, patting the first chair. What hair he had left was beautifully manicured.

A little boy shrilled, "Look, Papa, a lady -- " He didn't get a chance to finish before his father shushed him.

A man under the razor in the second chair strained to look at her, causing the barber to nick his customer's cheek. Belle pretended not to notice, but a spot of blood spread over the virginal clouds of white shaving cream. It seemed like an omen.

A bad omen.

Belle swallowed hard and climbed into the first chair. The barber shook out a big white cape. "Wait," she said.

All activity stopped. The bootblack looked up from the shoes of the man being shaved. Scissors and razor were held in suspended animation. Everyone turned toward Belle.

She pulled a picture out of her purse. She'd cut it out of Vogue magazine two weeks before while she'd screwed up her courage. Underneath, the caption read: "Bobbed hair is the mark of the new woman. Young, easy to take care of, it's for a woman who wants to get on with her life."

"Do you think you can cut my hair like this?"

"Don't you worry none," the barber said.

Belle hated it when someone told her not to worry. How dare he tell me how to feel, she thought. She took one last look at her thick pompadour of deep brown hair that . . .


Excerpted from The Bad Behavior of Belle Cantrell LP by Loraine Despres Copyright © 2005 by Loraine Despres.
Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Loraine Despres is the author of the bestselling novel The Scandalous Summer of Sissy LeBlanc and its tie-in title, The Southern Belle's Handbook. Raised in Amite, Louisiana, Despres is a former television writer and international screenwriting consultant. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband and continues to enjoy bad behavior.

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Bad Behavior of Belle Cantrell 4.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 15 reviews.
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E-C-D More than 1 year ago
At the time that this story takes place there are a lot of events occuring that write a lot of America's History. The author creates a woman that, after a tragedy, is yearning to discover what life can hold. But all around her the world seems to be crumbling. Women's right to vote, segregation and the KKK, her husbands death and the conspiracy of what really happened, her daughter dating an older boy, running a farm on her own, falling for a jewish man, dealing with her farm manager coming on to her, and all the while still trying to remain a perfect southern lady. This was a very entertaining read. I put it on while I was doing some cleaning and it kept my interest while I stayed busy. It wasn't my favorite book, but it was worth the time and I am not usually a fan of period books, but I enjoyed this. Mostly, I think, because I felt like the author found a way to lighten up all the seriousness that surrounds all the issues she's encompassing in this novel.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I bought this audio book for listening in the car. At times, I would take the long way to be able to listen longer! It was very entertaining and somewhat eye opening.
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Guest More than 1 year ago
The characters are expansive and complex. I finished this book in one day. It is a wonderful story with a timeless theme.
Guest More than 1 year ago
If Chick Lit isn't your thing, disregard the cover and marketing of The Bad Behavior of Belle Cantrell. It's worth reading and it's worth discussing with your book club. Author Loraine Despres is so celebrated for having written the 'Who Shot JR?' episode of Dallas that those familiar with her work might anticipate a southern soap opera in the form of a book. But Belle Cantrell, while being a southern bell, is also a symbol for some of the issues we are still wrestling with in the 21st century in America. In the 1980s you couldn't get on an airplane without seeing a paperback version of Michael Creighton's The Rising Sun in a traveler's hands. Despres may have had the same goal that Creighton did in writing and packaging her book. Both books are palatable and have broad mass appeal and both are built on cautionary tales that can't be missed through all the intrigue of the characters. Creighton deals with the economic threat of China to the United States. Despres deals with the decency of the human spirit in the United States. This is a prequel to Despres' best seller The Scandalous Summer of Sissy LeBlanc. In writing her latest novel, Despres seems to be interested in scratching below the surface and looking into more serious subjects than the frivolous rules of behavior of women of the South gone by -- the chapter heading in all of her books. Belle Cantrell is a trail blazing woman of the early 20th century. She stands up publicly for women's suffrage and the rights of blacks she works as the overseer of a farm and she is personally affected by anti-Semitism despite being a WASP herself. She gets into messes without using her head at times. She believes a photo taken of her in a 'compromising position' has caused the death of her husband (she's wrong). She can't shake the silly Scarlett O'Hara one-sided conversations in her brain about what self-respecting girls (especially those who have lifted themselves out of the trash) should do. And she is not the best mother in the world. But the author has a 'gotcha' with the pleasure. The reader won't get to the end of the book without thinking about the broader themes of the fights for rights of many groups a hundred years ago and the issues that folks have to face and fight today as well. This is a palatable history lesson and a romance interwoven with issues of decency that mothers can feel good about passing on to their daughters when they are finished reading it.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I just finished reading the Bad Behavior of Belle Cantrell. I loved it. It grabbed me from the beginning and drew me into the plot with the larger than life characters, especially Belle. I love reading books about the south with strong women characters and this book delivered. you will not be disappointed.
GailCooke More than 1 year ago
Ever think about what was considered 'bad behavior' in the early 20th century, and what might be considered scandalous doings now? Quite a difference, isn't there? Today Belle Cantrell would be considered well behaved but in 1920 in Gentry, Louisiana, she raised many an eyebrow when she bobbed her hair. Talk had barely died down about her new haircut when she spent time in the pokey for swimming in an inappropriate bathing costume. Belle, Belle, what will you be up to next? Well, as it turns out almost anything because this gal had a backbone of steel, and no patience for the prejudices of small town Louisiana. She believed women should vote, and the Ku Klux Klan should be tarred and feathered. On top of all that she sees nothing wrong with having male married friends. After all, she is unmarried and a person does need company from time to time. Performer Zoe Thomas reads with vim, vigor and determination, giving Belle an unforgettable voice.