By: Robert Ely
Reviewed by: Edward Reynolds
MBF Press, 2006
With his wickedly funny, satirical tale of notorious political dramas portrayed by Alabama rascals, Robert Ely pens to life unforgettable characters that include governors, bureaucrats, legislators, hero attorneys, and the little people—the salt of the earth, common folk of the state. Ely tells the story of an attorney determined to break the shackles of demagoguery that threaten the state’s social and safety welfare. In his novel Hallelujah, Alabama!, Ely deftly pits Richard Steick—a lawyer with a conscience—against villains like “Little Hoop” DeMinus (DeMinus’ father was “Big Hoop,” a crony of ex-governor Big Jim Folsom), the greedy, unscrupulous director of Solid Waste Liaisons for the Alabama Department of Public Health. Little Hoop wants to boost the state’s coffers by making Coffee County in southeast Alabama a toxic waste dump. How much Little Hoop will line his pockets with the cash that his wheeling and dealing will generate from such a toxic hotspot is anybody’s guess. The author’s revealing of DeMinus’ habit of prostituting himself in religious and political circles(as most any Alabama politician still no doubt would) is hilarious: “A lifetime Baptist, he would be a Buddhist come November if the Buddhist party won at the polls.”
Ely’s protagonist is attorney and college professor Steick, a semi-wealthy, practical man of some eccentricity in a small town north of Montgomery called Hallelujah. It was formerly known as Hellesponte, but the name was legally changed by the good Christian townsfolk because they thought it meant “Hell’s Point.” Steick is seeking justice for descendants of black Montgomery firefighters who saved the city from being burned down during the Civil War. The attorney spends many an evening lounging in his backyard in a stable converted into an English-style pub he has named “Mushroom Memories.” The interior decor is 1950s, with a peculiar focus on the Cold War: photos of Edward Teller, father of the hydrogen bomb; a Khrushchev quote: “We will bury you!”; video clips of atomic bomb tests flashed on a big TV screen. The author’s hysterical idea for Steick’s backyard bar drink of choice is classic: “lime Kool-Aid and vodka served over bomb-shaped ice cubes in the Sputnik-rimmed cocktail glasses.”
Ely teases the reader’s curiosity throughout. One never knows what might be lurking in the pages ahead. It’s a great read and made for a couple of splendid evenings of enjoyment laughing aloud on my front porch absorbed by Hallelujah, Alabama! with a pitcher of vodka and lime Kool Aid within my reach.
Edward Reynolds is a journalist in Birmingham.