Good and evil do battle again in this folksy follow-up to an Essence magazine bestseller.
The Southern-based Gospel United Church is in trouble again. The African-American church has thrived since its introduction in Church Folk (2001), but as it has spread across the United States and Africa, corruption has followed. The good Reverend Theophilus Simmons now heads up a congregation in St. Louis, where in addition to his own crew of colorful sinners, he must also plan for an upcoming conference. That conference should allow the righteous folk the chance to rein in some errant bishops. But Simmons and company may not be prepared to deal with thieving church officials who want to peddle an African Viagra-like, watermelon-based medicine stateside, using the international church as cover. Bowen (Up at the College, 2009, etc.) never leaves her readers in doubt that the godly will triumph and order will be restored, but she could have had more fun along the way. Although she lays on the colloquial language, making even her educated characters sound like stereotypes, she falls flat when it comes to description. Good is explained simply as being obedient and really meaning it, with more than one church-going character described as lax: “even though she technically qualified for salvation, she never went farther than getting saved.” Evil is much more fun, consisting of sex and drugs and corruption. But even that is anemically depicted, with tired sexual clichés for when the watermelon drug, used to boast energy and prowess, wears off, leaving men feeling “like a plop of poop.” Since these salacious scenes are probably the real draw, couched as they are in avowedly moral storytelling, the slathering on of adjectives might work for those who limit themselves to strictly Christian fiction. However, that appeal is limited.
Figure in the loss of the hometown camaraderie that made the first Memphis-based book a success, and it's hard to see how this simplistic morality tale will sell.