Review: “Bell Hammers: The True Folk Tale of Little Egypt, Illinois” by Launcelot Schaubert

Bell Hammers: The True Folk Tale of Little Egypt by [Lancelot Schaubert]

Genre: humour, saga

Description: this clever book purports to be the life story of Wilson Remus Broganer of southern Illinois. It isn’t. It is the mashed together stories of a lot of lives from the oilfields, gathered by Schaubert, from Remmy’s first recorded memory at age six just after before Pearl Harbour, until his death in 2015. Whether the stories were collected by Schaubert or he made them up, kudos for either a lot of research and sessions with a tape recorder, or a fine imagination.

Author: Schaubert “believes that art should not merely entertain or sell product. [It] should cause us to change our minds, soften our hearts, and motivate our activism to be true and good.” That is a mighty manifesto. He practices what he preaches. He gives away cool stuff on his website, which is here: I believe you can even get a free copy of this book there. Schaubert is a multi-talented artist:  writing is only one of his artistic endeavours, and he writes SF as well as this current book.

He is obviously a flexible being, and would like us all to be that way too. For some people that is easier than it is for others. We are, after all, the products of the society we grow up in. One of Schaubert’s literary gifts is helping his audience to see with fresh eyes. That is rare, and when it occurs it is a blessing.

Appraisal: This is an outstanding book, and I recommend it to you heartily.

Despite being your British reviewer, I’ve read most of William Faulkner’s novels. One of Schaubert’s back cover puffs likens this book to Faulkner. This is not hyperbole: it is so.

There is never a dull page in this book. Wilson Remus (known as Remmy) is constantly playing pranks. Indeed, the hard knock life of the inhabitants of the area is softened by their constant pranks and jokes – but he is the pranking king. He is driven, boy and man; always working and saving for a paradise which he never quite reaches.

Along the road of his life we meet his family, from his grandfather to his own grandchildren. There is the planning and execution of The Impune Prank – the greatest prank of all which has consequences he didn’t foresee or intend; there is (consequently) jail time. In the background there is a family memory of riot and murder. These are just the highlights of the highlights: Remmy packs a lot in – it is a life both ordinary and absolutely extraordinary.

Occasionally one of the anecdotes disappears up its own fundament. It is still fun, still brings insights into the lives with which it deals, but it fizzles out somewhere in the long grass. Fret not. There will be another one along momentarily: fresh fizzing.

Schaubert gives a voice to the largely unheard people living a hard-scrabble life in southern Illinois when big oil (specifically, Texarco) was completely unfettered, bought who it wanted, drilled where it wanted, and paid no compensation for fouled wells, poisoned farm land, or sink holes. As the novel nears its end, the social toll and oily reach of Texarco assumes a larger place in the narrative as the focus pulls back a little.

For the full Schaubert Experience I urge you to read both the acknowledgements at the front of the book (which are truly fascinating) and the back matter (which tells you how the book came to be and, partly, what makes it so riveting). This is a book told throughout in working class southern Illinois dialect. In an appendix at the end Schaubert explains how Amer-english from that part of the world works. I found it fascinating. If it’s not your bag just skip over it.

Review originally prepared for ‘Big Al & Pals’: received a complimentary book file.


Published by Judi Moore

Hi there, I hope you find something to interest you here. In December 2017 I published my fourth book – ‘Wonders will never cease’. It’s a satirical campus novel set in the fictional Ariel University in 1985. If you enjoyed Tom Sharpe’s Porterhouse novels, Willy Russell’s ‘Educating Rita’, David Lodge’s campus novels or Malcolm Bradbury’s ‘The History Man’ back in the day, you may enjoy revisiting the ivory towers of 1980s’ academe thirty years on. See what you think. “It is December, 1985. The year is winding gently towards its close until Fergus Girvan, a Classicist at Ariel University, finds his research has been stolen by the man who is also seeking to steal his daughter. But which man is, actually, the more unscrupulous of the two? And is there hope for either of them?” In the autumn of 2015 I published a volume of short fiction: 'Ice Cold Passion and other stories'. I am also the author of novella 'Little Mouse', a shortish piece of historical fiction which I published in 2014 and, a sequel to it, 'Is death really necessary?', my eco thriller set in the near future and which, confusingly, I published in 2009. All the books are available from all good online bookshops and FeedARead on paper, and as e-books on Kindle. On a semi-regular basis, and about a month after the event, I post here reviews which I do for Big Al & Pals, the premier reviewer of indie books, based in the States. My interests tend to thrillers, SF, magic realism and other quirky stuff. On this blog are also posted the reviews I did for Leighton Buzzard Music Club over some five years up to the end of 2015. LBMC present annual seasons of eight monthly chamber music concerts at the Library Theatre in Leighton Buzzard, Bucks. They select young musicians just beginning to make their name - and the concerts are usually magnificent. I was very proud to be associated with them. I review other music, books, theatre and exhibitions which I've particularly enjoyed. BTW - it says the link to Facebook is broken. I dispute that. Click it and see, why not?

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