Written by Catherine Conroy
Writers as Readers met Tuesday evening, November 4, to discuss Eric Charles May’s novel, Bedrock Faith. Eric May is an associate professor of Fiction Writing at Columbia College in Chicago and was a reporter for the Washington Post. With numerous publishing credits, Bedrock Faith, ten years in the creating, is his first novel.
Set in Chicago’s far south side of Parkland – “all black since 1870” – Stew Pot returns to the 129th Street neighborhood he terrorized until he was sent to prison when he was eighteen. Now, fourteen years later, in 1993, he goes to his next door neighbor, Mrs. Motley – whose garage he had burnt down – and asks to borrow a Bible. Later Stewpot tells her, “…my spiritual awakening came as a result of counsel from Brother Crown. He’s a man of God walking day and night in The Light. He’s turned a lot of fellows in prison around. The way I see it, sinning Stew Pot is dead. God gave me the strength to kill him.”
The neighborhood is thrown into chaos by Stew Pot when he reveals secrets in the name of bringing people into The Light. Relationships are turned upside-down. Retaliation is rampant. Near the end of the book, Mrs. Motely remembers that her mother always said, “The truth is in the light. The truth will set you free.” And we, the reader, are left to contemplate if this is true after all that has transpired.
A big book, 432 pages, it is easy to read with its division into books made up of one to six page chapters. The action pushes you forward while you try to guess what will happen next. We were impressed with the excellence of Eric’s attention to detail, his pacing, his surprises, his insight into his characters including their strengths and weaknesses, his management of a large cast of characters, his ability to put forth issues of gender, race, religion, and relationships, in an objective manner. He presents a neighborhood that could be anyone’s neighborhood.
Discussion points on which we were divided included: category – mainstream vs literary (online found it is listed as Dramatic Literary Fiction, which the majority could understand); dramatic twists (toward the end, especially), earned or not, needed or not.
Questions we couldn’t answer: How important was Eric’s growing-up neighborhood to the genesis of this book? How are family and friends reacting to it? How are his sales? How is the marketing of his book being managed? Would he use the same route for a next novel? Will there be a sequel?
We are looking forward to gaining more insight into Eric’s process and his book during his presentation at the November 8th In Print meeting. The best testament for this book: when asked if you – the book club members – would recommend this book, they responded with an enthusiastic, “yes.”
The next meeting of Writers as Readers will be Tuesday, December 2, 2014, at 6:30 pm at the Barnes and Noble bookstore in CherryVale Mall. To be discussed: “Nine Stories” by J. D. Salinger.