Belle Starr: A Novel
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In the borderland of Arkansas and Oklahoma stories are still told about Belle Starr. When she was young an outlaw seduced her, got her pregnant, and abandoned her. Dressing in plumes and Stetson, she took on the role of a fallen woman, yet in the manner of all true rebels, she took on part of the role and rejected part, evolving a style of living that sparked the imagination of later generations. More
Certain facts about Belle Starr are known and recorded. When she was young the outlaw Cole Younger seduced her, got her pregnant, and abandoned her. Dressing in plumes and Stetson, she took on the role of a fallen woman, theatrically and publicly. Yet in the manner of all true rebels, she took on part of the role and rejected part, evolving an unheard-of style of living that sparked the imagination of generations of people. In the borderland of Arkansas and Oklahoma stories are still told about her, stories not far removed from people who knew her. Out of these local accounts, Speer Morgan spins an uncommon tale of an uncommon woman.
Glimpses: Ambushed by a hostile band of Indians, Belle rips off her shirt and, howling the Cherokee death-gobble, marches on them alone. Negotiates masterfully with a sophisticated Indian chief trying to stop the land rushes. Hoodwinks a sheriff. Burns up the brothel in which her daughter works. Defies an old lover and bewilders a new one. Robs a bank. Leads a gun battle. Copes with toothaches, migraines, menstrual pains, and the corrosive sense of her age and ugliness, as well as the faint-heartedness of hired guns, and a raging storm — all the while cutting a telegraph line and firing a railroad bridge. She comforts a dying cowboy, rallies an old widow, jeers at a baseball game, dominates a men’s bar, broods on her amorous past, rants, daydreams, swigs drink and dope — and laughs at the world and herself.
This novel arises from a sophisticated artist’s obsession with a primitive — but not simple — woman, and from a sensitive modern man’s understanding of women in male roles, confronting men and leading them, but torn by raging inner conflicts.
“Belle Starr is a wonderful book, singing with the wild energy and zany humor (and, too, the ineffable sadness) of the final years of the Old West. Speer Morgan has created a tragic and triumphant story, rich with truly dimensional characters and with scenes and events which live on the page and then haunt the memory. Belle Starr is an important novel, a genuine contribution to the legend and history of America.”
— George Garrett, author of Death of the Fox
“Steeped in blazing fact and lore, this affecting novel — centered in the human heart and its will to survive — vividly evokes the last tragic months of Belle Starr’s remarkable life. It should do for her memory what Irving Stone’s Lust for Life did for Vincent van Gogh.”
— Al Young, author of Sitting Pretty
“Belle Starr is the best novel I’ve read in a long time.”
— Rita Mae Brown