Parkland is a far-south-side middle-class neighborhood. Its tidy homes boast trim lawns. Its residents are a mix of retirees and working people. They are mostly friendly and respectful of their neighbors. They host cookouts and holiday celebrations. They gossip on front porches and over fences. They look out for each other. It is a tranquil neighborhood.

But Parkland’s tranquility is disrupted upon the return of Gerald “Stew Pot” Reeves.

It’s 1993, and Stew Pot has just returned to his mother’s home in Parkland. He’s spent the last 14 years in prison. Among his long list of transgressions against his neighbors: arson, assault, pet murder. (Stew Pot had named his own pit bull Hitler.) Consensus among the block club is that Stew Pot’s homecoming means more of the same, and the residents brace themselves for big trouble.

Stew Pot’s first public act upon arrival, though, is to ask his next-door neighbor, retired grade-school librarian Mrs. Motley, for a Bible. He says prison changed him, saved him; he’s now walking in “The Light.” However, his aggressive and judgmental evangelicalism wreaks a different sort of havoc on Parkland. He is a holy terror.

Stew Pot gets up in people’s business in the name of their salvation. (He acquires a new pit bull, this one named John the Baptist.) Neighborhood secrets are exposed; diaries and other private papers are stolen from homes and reprinted in Stew Pot’s neighborhood newsletter, which he deposits in mail slots. He outs Parklanders for various transgressions. For instance:

“Lesbianite!” he shouted. “Fornicator! Violator of nature! If you won’t come to The Light, I’ll bring the Light to you! You hear me, Erma? I’m bringing The Light!”

All sorts of misfortunes begin to befall the residents of Parkland. The secrets revealed even set neighbors who’ve known each other their whole lives against one another. Without a doubt, they say, Stew Pot is behind everything. But he always has an alibi; he’s never caught in the act.

Stew Pot and Mrs. Motley are characters in Columbia College writing prof Eric Charles May’s new book, Bedrock Faith (Akashic). It’s a fast-paced 400-plus-page novel, with short, punchy chapters that come in lengths of just a page or a few, and it’s suspenseful and meditative in equal measure. Who will Stew Pot condemn next? And how? Mrs. Motley is perhaps the moral center of the novel, but is her bedrock faith enough to get her through it all?

Plus there’s a shocking twist toward the end . . . You won’t believe what happens next!

  • Michael David Sims
  • Eric Charles May

May’s next reading is Sat 4/8, 5 PM, at Powell’s University Village, 1218 S. Halsted.

[Here’s a Story Week conversation between May and Akashic publisher Johnny Temple.]