BY LESLIE CRISS
Works of fiction about blacks and whites, a racist South, and rare and remarkable relationships among the races are a dime a dozen.
Some have been penned by Southerners – both black and white – who either experienced such things personally or who, by virtue of their ancestry, have heard the stories that have been passed down and down and down.
Others have been authored by outsiders from well beyond our Southern borders who just decided to cash in on our history. Some of those have gotten it nearly right, while some have not come close.
Many of these novels are mediocre at best. Some are just plain bad. Some win Pulitzer Prizes, like Harper Lee’s “To Kill A Mockingbird,” or become lauded as large successes – literary, financial or both – like “The Healing,” “The Help” and “The Color Purple.”
Some readers will pick up a new Southern novel, give it a try and put it down quickly: “That story has already been told.”
Maybe it has. But there are some writers who can take stories that may have been told for decades and add their own unique twists and turns, characters and conflicts, and spin a brand new tale into one well worth a read.
Elaine Hussey has written such a novel.
“The Sweetest Hallelujah” introduces readers to some unforgettable characters.
There’s the three generations of strong females who live under one roof in Shakerag – the matriarch Queen, her strong and musically gifted daughter Betty Jewel and her granddaughter, 10-year-old Billie, precocious and priceless as she begins to deal with some of life’s hard knocks.
On the other side of Tupelo, in Highland Circle, is Cassie Malone, a recently widowed journalist for the local paper who thinks outside the box, not a safe thing for any person in 1955 Mississippi.
“The Sweetest Hallelujah” tells the story of the fierce love of mothers and daughters, and the great lengths to which they’ll go to take care of family. It’s also the story about a forbidden friendship forged despite the warnings against it.
Hussey is no stranger to the world of writing. She’s better known to Lee County folks as our own Peggy Webb, who’s got 30 years of being a published author on her resume.
She’s written romance, comedy, even some mystery. And now comes a work of literary fiction that, I believe, has what it takes to make it to the top of many best-seller lists.
“The Sweetest Hallelujah,” it’s title taken from the chorus of an old gospel hymn, will break your heart. It will make you cry, then laugh, then cry all over again.
It will make you want to stand up and cheer. It will make you tremble with trepidation as Dead Alice, the ghost of an 11-year-old murdered in Shakerag, sends warnings of things to come. It will make you angry at how things once were and grateful that things have change – at least a bit.
It will make you crave some good Southern barbecue and Queen’s fried chicken, and it will have you singing the blues and wishing for a harmonica.
If you’re like me, you’ll be hard-pressed to choose a favorite among the folks who inhabit Hussey’s story. Instead you’ll want most of her true-to-life characters to be your best friends. And if you’re like me, you’ll wish the book would not end.
Written with wit and a wondrous way with words, “The Sweetest Hallelujah” is, in this reader’s opinion, the very best creation of Elaine Hussey. Or Peggy Webb.
But you’ll want to make your own judgment, so give it a read. I think you’ll love it, too.
TITLE: “The Sweetest Hallelujah”
AUTHOR: Elaine Hussey
PUBLISHER: Harlequin MIRA
ELAINE HUSSEY WILL DO A READING and sign copies of “The Sweetest Hallelujah” at 4 p.m. Wednesday at Reed’s Gum Tree Bookstore in Tupelo. She will be at Barnes & Noble at 2 p.m. Saturday. At both events, barbecue sliders
and sweet tea will be served – first come, first served.