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by Loraine Despres

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 2005
ISBN: 0-06-051524-4
Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

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 “Bourrée” 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 Bourrée—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 Bourrée 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 screenwriter Despres 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 clichés.