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The Turning of Belva Goode by Gene Hensley

User Thread
 75yrs • M •
A CTL of 1 means that Jim Colyer is a contributing member of Captain Cynic.
The Turning of Belva Goode by Gene Hensley

Gene Hensley's novel, The Turning of Belva Goode, is set in the coal mining town of Cyclone, West Virginia around the time of the Korean War. West Virginia is a state of tree-covered mountains and narrow, twisting roads. There is a provincialism, a bond between the people and the land where they were born and raised. People are caught up in immediate circumstances, family life and the struggle to keep food on the table. It can be soup and crackers until hog killing time.

Belva Goode is 28. She married young and has 6 children. Poverty and constant toil have aged her. At her best, she is surprisingly beautiful. Her smile is bright. Her hair glistens. In school, she was the prettiest girl. She could have had anyone. Some wonder what she saw in Bill.

Bill Goode is Belva's husband. He works the coal mines. He is proud and jealous and resents it when Belva takes a job as a waitress at Bailey's Hotel. That his wife works outside the home undermines Bill's manhood. However, the Goodes stay in debt. Bill must borrow money to buy gas.

Tommy James returns to Cyclone. Tommy was a star athlete in school and knew Belva. He made good. He is married but without kids. Tommy is back in Cyclone to negotiate a deal with the Majestic Mining Company.

Belva and Tommy get reacquainted. Tommy is well-dressed. He has money. Belva is struck by his youthful appearance even though he is the same age as her husband. The reader senses the direction in which the story is headed.

Belva is revitalized by her job at the hotel as the gap between her and Bill widens. Hensley guides his readers effortlessly through Belva's transformation. As she talks to Tommy about her children, Tommy unconsciously falls in love. It is her openness. Husband and wife continue to drift. Bill is bitter about Belva bringing home leftovers from the hotel to feed the family. Belva's friendship with Tommy reaches a point where she consents to go with him to his hunting lodge. The sexual tension percolating below the surface comes to a boil. They make love, "violate their marriages" as the author puts it. Hensley's carefully measured prose portrays his characters while putting them at a distance.

Reality sets in. Belva wonders if Tommy loves her. Tommy consults his lawayers about engineering Belva's divorce from Bill.

I had a problem, one that is addressed in the book. Why would a man in Tommy's position waste himself on a woman with 6 kids? He could wait a few years and find a much younger woman and have a child of his own. Either Tommy is more naive than we are led to believe or he really is inexplicably in love with Belva.

Bill Goode learns of Belva's and Tommy's affair. Bill has gone from being a loving husband to being a potentially dangerous man. His response to his wife's infidelity is automatic. He takes his rifle and fires a shot into Tommy's Jeep as it descends Premier Mountain. The Jeep goes over the mountain, and Bill assumes he has killed the two lovers. What he does not know is that Belva overdosed on tranquilizers at the lodge and was buried there by Tommy.

The Jeep is found two years later as Hensley delivers twist on twist. Bill's shot missed. Tommy drove his Jeep over the mountain in a suicide. A suicide note was found in the wreckage with financial provisions for Belva's children. Agnes, Belva's oldest, goes to medical school on Tommy's money. Agnes emerges at the story's end as the one child with an understanding of the tragedy surrounding her parents.

The novel poses moral questions. Is Bill just as guilty as if he actually had committed murder? Did Belva and Tommy pay for their sin? Or is all this merely the playing out of random, inconsequential events in the West Virginia mountains?

The Turning of Belva Goode is a thoughtful, compelling read, long enough to develop characters and story and short enough to hold our attention.
Its title derives from Belva's "turning against her husband," at least in his mind. The picture on the cover is Belva's ghost in its blue dress, believed to have been seen on the mountain.

Jim Colyer

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"Jim Colyer wrote Save The Planet."
 33yrs • F •
A CTL of 1 means that Attolia is a contributing member of Captain Cynic.
I think Tommy has selfish love and cared only about how Belva made him feel. He didn't care about the kids, or, like you said, why would a rich man want the responsiblity of 6 kids that aren't his (unless he's really kind)?

So Belva is killed by her lover so that she can forever remain in the state of having loved him. Shows that Tommy is selfish, not loving. Then Tommy felt guilty and killed himself and left the money for Belva's kids.

Bill is guilty of murder. He shot the bullet. Whether it hit or missed is irrelevant.

Did the lovers pay for their sins? Well, if you believe in God and sin, I would say yes.

It was pointless for the novel to mention Belva's past. It's irrelevant to the plot.

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"How can we be just in a world without mercy and merciful in a world without justice?"
The Turning of Belva Goode by Gene Hensley
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