Excerpt from Belle Cora by Phillip Margulies, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reading Guide |  Reviews |  Beyond the Book |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

Belle Cora

A Novel

by Phillip Margulies

Belle Cora by Phillip Margulies X
Belle Cora by Phillip Margulies
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Jan 2014, 608 pages
    Paperback:
    Oct 2014, 608 pages

    Genres

  • Rate this book


Book Reviewed by:
Sarah Sacha Dollacker
Buy This Book

About this Book

Print Excerpt

Belle Cora

Book One

(1828)

I

There is a story about a girl who took the wrong path, and rues it all her life. She is too trusting.  She is too passionate. The result: an error than can't be corrected, a stain that can't be washed out. Back on the old homestead where she grew up no one is permitted to speak her name, and her picture is turned to the wall. 

Gentlemen love this story, so when any girl in a house of mine lacked some version of it I would help her to make one up. I'd take her to a good restaurant at a quiet time of day, order something very expensive and tell her, "You were an Ohio farm girl, and to help your folks out with the bank loan you went to work in a mill.  The mill agent's son noticed you.  He was very handsome.  That was your downfall."

Or I'd begin, "You're from a fine old Baltimore family. Your father was a good man, except, he was a bit reckless: he gambled; he was killed in a duel."

And so on.  There was a time when I had three girls declaring in the face of overwhelming contrary evidence that they were the daughters of clergymen. 

Why it was useful to say these things, I can only guess.  God knows it wasn't to evoke pity. We weren't beggars, and the customers weren't softhearted.  The important thing was that it worked.  We knew from experience that these men paid more for the attention of a girl wrapped in the fiction that she had not chosen this life—she was unlucky, meant for something better, but here to enjoy thanks to her misfortune. 

Sometimes we lied even though the truth was perfect.  The pretty creature would run a fingertip along the rim of her glass and tell me, "I was a farm girl, but in Indiana" or "There was a boss's son, and a child, it did die, I did try to kill myself." I'd inquire, "Do you ever tell them that?" She'd answer, "No." I'd say, "Of course not: it's too personal.  But since it resembles what they want to hear, tell them something else on those lines. That way everyone's happy." 

The truth was withheld only because so much else had to be forfeited.  My case was like that.  I was the country girl.  And before that, I was the rich girl.

To begin with the first story, I was born in 1828, into a family of pious Yankee merchants. My grandfather, a silk importer, had come to New York from Massachusetts fifteen years earlier and had prospered. He owned what was for several years the tallest building in New York City.  My father was his chief clerk. My mother was an invalid, and we prayed every day that she would live and knew that she would die. 

Our home was in Bowling Green, a fashionable New York City neighborhood a little past its prime.  Its fine three-story buildings, with their pitched roofs and neat rows of dormer windows and wrought-iron fences, were being refashioned to live second lives as boarding houses, or being torn down entirely and replaced with hotels.  I think it is because I was born there that the world has always felt old to me.  The United States was young.  Newspapers constantly reminded us of that.  But in Bowling Green things showed signs of long use. I remember when a flood on the second floor of our house damaged a wall of the sitting room on the floor below, revealing many old layers of wallpaper, in quaint patterns, and my father told me that they had been pasted to the walls by the people who had been here before us, and deeper layers had been put there by the people who were here still earlier. How remarkable: there had been other families, surrounded by fleur de lis on yellow, before that by pussy willow twigs on green, and so on, layer on layer, back and back.  Digging in the courtyard I would find children's lost whip tops and penny dolls.  Who were these children?  Where were they now?

Excerpted from Belle Cora by Phillip Margulies. Copyright © 2014 by Phillip Margulies. Excerpted by permission of Doubleday. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $12 for 3 months or $39 for a year.
  • More about membership!

Beyond the Book:
  Millerism

Join BookBrowse

Become a Member and discover books that entertain, engage & enlighten.

Find out more


Today's Top Picks

  • Book Jacket: What Storm, What Thunder
    What Storm, What Thunder
    by Myriam J. A. Chancy
    What Storm, What Thunder illuminates life in Haiti during and after the massive earthquake on ...
  • Book Jacket: Noor
    Noor
    by Nnedi Okorafor
    Noor's heroine goes by the moniker AO. Though officially this stands for her given name, Anwuli ...
  • Book Jacket: Five Tuesdays in Winter
    Five Tuesdays in Winter
    by Lily King
    Lily King's two recent novels Euphoria and Writers & Lovers could hardly be more different: one has ...
  • Book Jacket: Never
    Never
    by Ken Follett
    Ken Follett's thriller Never outlines a chillingly possible path to World War III. Fifty-year-old ...

Book Club Discussion

Book Jacket
My Broken Language
by Quiara Alegría Hudes
A Pulitzer Prize–winning playwright tells her lyrical coming of age story in a sprawling Puerto Rican family.

Readers Recommend

  • Book Jacket

    The Latinist
    by Mark Prins

    A page-turning exploration of power, ambition, and the intertwining of love and obsession.

  • Book Jacket

    Honor
    by Thrity Umrigar

    Bestselling author Thrity Umrigar tells the moving story of two Indian women and the courage they inspire in each other.

Who Said...

Everywhere I go, I am asked if I think the university stifles writers...

Click Here to find out who said this, as well as discovering other famous literary quotes!

Wordplay

Solve this clue:

L's G T Show O T R

and be entered to win..

Books that     
entertain,
     engage

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends the best in contemporary fiction and nonfiction—books that not only engage and entertain but also deepen our understanding of ourselves and the world around us.