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The Bad Behavior of Belle Cantrell

By Loraine Despres
Review by: Julie Schoerke

07/06

If Chick Lit isn't your thing, disregard the cover and marketing of The Bad Behavior of Belle Cantrell. In spite of its cover, 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 anticipate a southern soap opera in the form of a book. But Belle Cantrell, while being a southern bell, is a metaphor for some of the issues we are 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's 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. These are the lighthearted escapades that are the reward of reading this book for pleasure.

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 romp with romance interwoven with issues of decency that mothers can feel good about passing on to their daughters when they are finished reading it.

Check out Loraine Despres' website at www.LoraineDespres.com and see a text exerpt of the novel here

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