“It had been a Second Coming sky all day, which meant they might be in heaven by this evening.” So begins the story of Roxanne Fish, daughter of Sister Zelda Fish and Pastor Winston Fish of the First Assembly of God Church of Ames, Iowa. The Fishes’ older daughter, Colleen, wants no part of their exuberant faith (“Where are you going, young lady?” “To find my real family!”), but Roxy longs to be saved even as she fears her sinful desires, such as marrying Elvis Presley when she grows up. If she grows up.
Roxy lives in a world populated by angels with blue noses and demons who follow her around whispering “God doesn’t like you.” And sinners, sinners everywhere, easily identifiable by their makeup and capri pants and knowledge of television programs: “As Christians you didn’t watch TV. Instead you played on the staircase, bumping down for hours on your rear end. Pastor Fish preached against TV as the one-eyed monster, but Brother Ransom needed it for crop news. Corn was going up and down like a yo-yo.You got it all on The Farmer’s Report. Then you turned it off, but sometimes Little Richard was too fast for you.” And then there is the problem of boredom in church: “Roxanne tried crossing her legs to get the Northern Lights between them. Staring straight ahead, she pressed. Her father went on about Habakkuk this and Habakkuk that. She stopped breathing. Then she gave up and uncrossed her legs. Leafing through the hymnal, she began adding “under the bed” to the titles. “Jesus, I Come, Under the Bed.” “What a Friend We Have in Jesus, Under the Bed.” “Rescue the Perishing, Under the Bed.” That was a hysterical one! She was just trying to read the tithing admonitions on the offering envelope in Pig Latin, sounding out each word, Ithway Anksgivingthay, when something smashed her in the left side of her cranium. ‘ROXANNE IS A FILTHY SINNER!’ said God.”
The Hallelujah Side is the unforgettable story of the conflict between Roxy’s desire to be saved and her yearning to experience the beauty and variety of the world. The conflict comes to a head when she discovers, with the help of Little Richard and a young Aretha Franklin, that she has a gorgeous, fabulous voice. And her voice as narrator is fabulous too, part Huck Finn, part Carson McCullers’ Scout, yet all her own in this wonderfully inventive novel.
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About the Author
The daughter of two Pentecostal preachers, Rhoda Huffey is a magazine writer and a tap dancer who teaches and performs extensively. She also holds an M.F.A. form the University of California at Irvine, and has been published in Ploughshares. The Hallelujah Side is her first novel.
Read an Excerpt
As usual, the service was boring. In pew three Roxanne leaned back, spying on the Woolworths next door, wiggling left for a better view. Colleen, being older, was babysitting in the nursery. It was getting dark outside. Chick Woolworth stood in his kitchen window, deliberately drinking a can of Pabst Blue Ribbon beer, his hairy belly exposed. Catching Roxanne’s eye, he raised one finger, and she immediately looked away. The Christians ignored him, of course, but it took lots of energy. Now Chick Woolworth disappeared. Alcohol precipitated the Woolworths’ insane behavior. Once it touched your lips you could not control anything you did. Roxanne waited curiously, but the window remained maddeningly quiet.
Some sinners were nice, of course. A few of the kids at school were friendly, but still, you would not be seeing them after death. The way was straight and narrow. Lutherans, Presbyterians, Episcopalians, they flouted God, sitting in movie theaters, wanton. Roxanne sighed...
Suddenly Roxanne sat up in the pew. Sister Beverly Cedars had seen the devil in the laundromat, staring at her from behind a dryer.
“He kept right on lookin’ at me!” Sister Beverly Cedars cried. Her voice was wild and her eyes were wide. A chill traveled down the congregation’s spine.
“Get thee behind me, Satan!” Sister Beverly Cedars’ voice rang out. “Glory!”
Copyright (C) 2000 by Rhoda Huffey. All Rights Reserved. Reprinted by permission of Houghton Mifflin Company.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I have to tell you, this book amazed me. My mother, 'Colleen', sent me this book shortly after it was published. Thinking that I had heard all these stories growing up, it wouldn't be that interesting of a read. So I placed it on the shelf as a keep sake. When I got word that my Aunt Rhoda was coming to Cincinnati for a reading I thought, as a courtesy, I should read it before she got here. Wow... I couldn't have been more surprised. I have to say that I had no idea my dear Aunt was so talented! It was absolutely wonderful. Even having heard these stories before, I found it absolutely to be one of the most entertaining books I've read.
This is an extremely entertaining tale about a young girl's spiritual conflict: Roxie is torn between wanting to be 'saved' and wanting to truly experience life. Her obsession with the rapture is almost hysterical! A definite must-read for anyone who has ever prayed to 'receive the Spirit'.
An outstanding first novel. From the very first line, you are in Ames, Iowa, knowing that rock and roll, lipstick, and television are sure paths to eternal damnation, but longing for them anyway. Rhoda Huffey shows pure genius in bringing to life the characters of The Hallelujah Side. You feel their fear and their faith; their love and their longing. I would highly recommend this book to saints and sinners alike. You'll easily find at least one character to identify with!