In this debut, May (Fiction Writing/Columbia College Chicago) walks the streets of Parkland on Chicago’s South Side, exploring race, community and religion.
May writes of a town settled by African-Americans fleeing Jim Crow’s South. 1990s Parkland is a stable, middle-class community, with hardworking families long acquainted, each house known to all; redbrick two-flats, large wooden foursquares. May writes of Mrs. Motley, a retired school librarian and insurance agent’s widow, with a son in the Army, stationed at Fort Sill; Mr. Davenport, a teacher and block-club president; Erma Smedley, divorced, beautiful enough that "the men perked up," who is hiding a secret; the Powells and Hicks; and 1960s radical Mrs. Butler, raising grandson Reggie. The familiar tranquility is fractured by Gerald "Stew Pot" Reeves, still young after nearly half a lifetime of imprisonment. Under the prison tutelage of Brother Crown, Stew Pot’s seen "The Light," and he’s intent on exposing the devil in Parkland. Stew Pot’s witnessing soon flames into jeremiads, and as he exposes hidden transgressions, Parkland’s perception of him changes "from the weird-but-harmless category to the crazy-dangerous-hot-list." Stew Pot discovers Erma is a "lesbianite." Erma’s shamed and flees. Stew Pot drives the Davenports away and then frightens Mrs. Hicks, who later dies after collapsing from heatstroke. May writes with meticulous detail, seemingly tedious in listing clothing, houses, shops and churches, but as the complex saga unfolds, his detailed viewpoint lends credence to the humanity of Parkland’s people. Stew Pot’s exposure of secrets causes lifelong friendships to implode, and in a misdirected strike at Stew Pot, Mrs. Motley’s treasured home is burned. With wounded veteran Mr. McTeer and Alderman Vernon Paiger as suitors, May’s Mrs. Motley is a superbly rendered, evolving character and the narrative’s heart: intent on dignified kindness and generosity, on propriety and perspective, yet plagued by unintended consequences and forced to ask herself, "what do you say to the pain of someone who felt horribly wronged by your right?"
A perceptive and entrancing meditation on friendship and family, love and forgiveness.