Bedrock Faith is the first novel from author Eric Charles May, a Chicago native that’s also a journalist and teacher. He has also written a few short stories in his time, which is reflected in this book because his writing is so precise and careful. Keeping that in mind, I will warn you that Bedrock Faith is close to 500 pages, so don’t pick this up unless you’re in it for the long haul.
The story centers on the small insular neighborhood of Parkland in a Chicago suburb. Every neighbor knows one another, and is generally interested in eachother’s business, whether they should be or not. The most delightful aspects of this book are the in-depth character descriptions of each household, each person’s daily habits, the mundane day-to-day life of the families, etc. May does such a great job of creating this realistic community that along with the characters, the reader feels put-out by the changes that reformed criminal Stew Pot brings along when he returns to Parkland, which is the premise of this well written book.
Stew Pot is a largely confusing and contradictory character. He returns home from prison as a born-again religious fanatic, and begins to condemn his neighbors for their ‘sinning’ ways, mostly in a disturbing and aggressive manner, for ridiculous things that only he considers wrong. For example, he forces his own mother to begin wearing shawls over her head and skirts down to her ankles. He also berates and vandalizes a neighbor’s home for stringing Christmas lights up in July because he argues this is blasphemous to celebrate Jesus’s birth at the wrong time of year. His character is the main instigator of book, and his disruptive nature is what the plot hinges on.
Not surprisingly, the book takes a dark turn towards the very end of the story once Stew Pot’s antics get out of control, and (spoiler alert) some people end up dead. I will say that this tone shift was very unexpected to me as a reader, however I think this is a very realistic way of portraying these types of incidents, and I can appreciate the lack of foreshadowing because it kept me reading. There were some threads left hanging at the end as well, but again I really enjoyed the fact that I was kept guessing, and as a person who reads as much as I do, I don’t typically get surprised by the direction of narratives very often (I’m hoping that doesn’t sound as pretentious to you as it did in my head, but this is truthfully how I feel).
Akashic Books publishes some wonderful novels, many of them very different from the other. Eric Charles May is a gem of a writer that they found, and I’m so glad I picked up this unexpected delight of a book.