Hallelujah Side

Rhoda Huffey, Author Delphinium Books $23 (224p) ISBN 978-1-883285-17-3
A funny, heartwarming novel about a strictly devout evangelical family may sound like an oxymoron, but in Huffey's beguiling debut, it proves the case. Narrator Roxanne Fish is nine years old when we meet her and her staunchly religious--but also affectionate and encouraging--parents. Roxy's father is pastor of a church in Ames, Iowa, whose members fervently believe that the Second Coming is imminent. Roxy is desperately afraid that she will fail to ascend to heaven with her parents because she has not yet been saved. Her older sister, Colleen, may not make heaven, either, because she's determined to become a Catholic. To their mother, cheerful, bubbly Sister Zelda, the Rapture will mean she'll have the davenport she craves. Kindly Pastor Fish is happy to punctuate his temporal existence playing baseball with Roxy. A beguiling mixture of typical preteen and fundamentalist believer, Roxy invents a demon named Fred, who taunts her about her doctrinal shortcomings, and a talking hedge that gives her advice. Guiltily, she allows her doll to indulge in all the sins a good Christian rejects. One temptation proves irresistible, however. The Fishes' beer-swilling neighbor lures Roxy into an Unpardonable Sin: singing rock and roll. Having thus discovered that she has a remarkable voice, Roxy now sees Satan everywhere. Her poignantly humorous thoughts and adventures, juxtaposed against the daily round of church services and domestic crises, make for a diverting narrative. Sometimes, however, the action leans toward sitcom: the sexual peccadilloes of three church leaders produce comic surprise, but the third incident of moral hypocrisy becomes overkill. The novel culminates in Roxy's first real religious experience; as an adolescent, she is discovered by Aretha Franklin, and as she sings ""Rock My Soul"" with Aretha's group, she experiences her own kind of transcendence. Huffey's light touch with her material, and her sensitive rendering of a religious youngster's matter-of-fact belief that the world may end any minute, move her story from the paradoxical to the plausible. (Nov.)
Reviewed on: 11/01/1999
Release date: 10/01/1999
Paperback - 272 pages - 978-0-618-07471-6
Ebook - 272 pages - 978-1-4532-5580-3
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