“I averted my eyes and in a sudden move wrenched my hand from her grasp. When I dared look again, the hand that had held mine was brushing tears. ‘Don’t forget about me Elwyn.’ Strange music began to play in my head. Was my light-headedness a result of her flowery perfume? The memory of the shape and feel of her waist? God forgive me, I silently prayed, this is Brother Morrisohn’s widow. Brother Morrisohn, a man I loved. ‘I won’t forget you,’ I said. When I got to my car, where Peachie awaited, I was breathing as though I’d just run a great distance.”
And so begins the love affair at the center of Jesus Boy, Preston L. Allen’s hilarious, satirical novel about the outrageous happenings at the Church of Our Blessed Redeemer Who Walked Upon the Waters. Sixteen year old Elwyn Parker, devout believer, respected youth in his community, and piano prodigy suddenly finds himself stumbling into a May-December romance with his deceased godfather’s 40 year old widow, Sister Morrisohn.
“And then I wept some more because the more she rubbed my neck, the more forgiveness I needed. For when she got down on her knees beside me and began to pray against my face, the very scent of her expanded my lungs like a bellows, and her breathing — her warm breath against my cheeks, my ear, into my eyes burning hot with tears — was everything I imagined a lover’s kiss might be.”
When shining light on the sins of the saints at the Church of Our Blessed Redeemer Who Walked Upon the Waters, Allen does not stop at Elwyn and Sister Morrisohn’s indiscretions. We are also introduced to Elwyn’s former life long crush, Peachie, who at sixteen, shockingly becomes pregnant by and immediately marries, an upwardly mobile minister in the church.
The stories are highly exaggerated but the circumstances are real and truthful to an extent. Having been raised in the Black church, I was pleasantly entertained by Allen’s illustration of hypocritical church members without being judgmental or condescending in his writing. However, I can see many people in the church being offended by this story, because it sarcastically mocks the ways in which people within the church behave. For instance, when Elwyn’s grandmother, one of the highly revered Mother’s of the church, suspects that Sister Morrisohn has seduced her grandson, she rips the woman to shreds with an evil tirade:
“Aren’t there enough slack-leg Johnnies with whom you can satisfy your vile, pagan lust? When it burns down there, why don’t you just run to the nursery and throw yourself on the infant with the fattest diaper…Thou thankless apostate, thou creeping Jezebel. The stink of thine iniquity rises to the nostrils of God…You should be flung from the highest tower. And when you burst open, the dogs should pick your rotting flesh from your putrid bones.”
Eventually, you find out that Elwyn’s grandmother, along with his father, his dead godfather, and a host of other people to whom he has always looked for spiritual guidance and examples of Christian living, all have past and current sins and mistakes that come back to haunt them. No one is without sin in this novel.
Despite the drama throughout the storylines, Allen expertly immerses the reader in the workings of the Black church, the many positions handed out to those with the most money, the most saintly, and the oldest parishioners. He also includes the weekly and monthly church activities and the cultural traditions during special events, like revivals, weddings, and funerals. These were my favorite parts of the book.
Readers who are open minded or not bogged down by their own opinions of religion, may get a kick out of the primary theme throughout the story: nobody is perfect, no matter how much closer to God you think you are because of your title within the church. By the end of the book, and after having lived a life filled with guilt and self righteousness, this is something that Elwyn finally realizes.
“God is love,” Peachie says. “God is here with us right now.”
I am looking forward to reading a lot more from this author.