Coal Station, Virginia, 1950s
Belle Prater's Boy is set in Coal Station, Virginia, a pretty little town where everything seems hunky dory all the time. In fact, when spring is in full bloom, it looks like a heavenly place to be:
What a wonder and a joy to behold in the spring when they all bloomed! There were also azaleas, pink and fuchsia. Not to mention the lilac bushes down by the creek, and the wild dogwood. People walking by our houses would sometimes stop there on the road and look and look, like they couldn't believe their dadburned eyes. (91.19)
But beneath its pretty exterior, the residents of Coal Station have to deal with the same ugly problems that everyone else does. They might know everyone by name and feel safe letting their kids wander the streets unchaperoned, but that doesn't mean they're exempt from pain and loneliness. When Woodrow first shows up in Coal Station, he has no idea how anyone could be unhappy here:
"When I first came here, the trees were all in bloom. I never had seen anything so pretty, and I thought nothing could ever hurt people who lived in such a beautiful place. Now the summer is gone. The apples are ripe, and I have learned… well, I have learned a beautiful place can't shelter you from hurt any more than a shack can." (23.14)
But over the course of the book, he learns that Coal Station is just like anywhere else—a place where people live out their lives, experience joy and love, and also sometimes get hurt. Just like Gypsy's a beautiful girl with a world of pain buried deep inside her, so too is life sometimes way harder than it appears in Coal Station.