cover image The Bad Behavior of Belle Cantrell

The Bad Behavior of Belle Cantrell

Loraine Despres, . . Morrow, $23.95 (338pp) ISBN 978-0-06-051524-9

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.)