Preston L. Allen’s Jesus Boy acknowledges the layered and the problematic elements of love, refusing the temptation to pass judgment. No small task, and done with grace—the novel examines a generation-spanning love affair in the context of an evangelical Christian church, looking straight in to questions of how morality can be reconciled with love.
The lovers, separated by an intense age gap, move through decades, and as the novel accompanies their maturation, their emotional shifts, it makes a movement backward in time, perfectly capturing the small and shattering revelations that affect their perception of the world.
Dialogue between Elwyn and Sister Morrisohn (he refers to her this way, so rarely as Elaine, a reminder of the constructs they’re stuck in) is honest to the jealousies and privacies of a relationship. In a stark, subtle passage, we see the gap between the public life and the private:
We separated ourselves from the crowd of women. We stood a safe distance from each other. We were just two members of the Faithful, the pianist and the president of the Missionary Society, making small talk after church.
“Service ended early, Brother Parker.” (There is an opportunity, she meant.)
“I’ve got to get up for subbing tomorrow.” (I don’t feel like it, I fired back.)
“Liars too shall have their part in the lake of fire.” (It’s hard being alone, my love.)
“I need to look for some yards.” (Don’t make it any harder than what it already is, my love.)
“You need money?” (You need money?)
“I’ve got some things lined up. Some yards.” (I always need money. Who are you kidding? But don’t embarrass me by giving me any. I’m trying to save what little is left of my pride.)
“Don’t be afraid to tell me if you need.” (I love you, my darling. I would do anything for you.)
“I’m okay. Really I am.” (My life is shit.)
“I just miss you is all.” She took my hand, a sister in the Lord shaking the hand of her brother in the Lord. “I guess I don’t always know my place.”
By placing the affair in a church, Allen merely throws into relief the quiet, constant moral struggles that go on between any two people in love. Elwyn and Sister Morrisohn aren’t reduced to their beliefs, their families, their past and future affairs. These are explored, yes, with the same intensive, objective care given to the problem of their relationship, but it’s in the unspoken between them that Jesus Boy gives us a brilliant flash of real human connection.
Preston L. Allen, a recipient of a State of Florida Individual Artist Fellowship, is the author of the critically acclaimed novel All or Nothing (Akashic) and the award-winning collection Churchboys and Other Sinners (Carolina Wren Press). His stories have appeared in numerous magazines and journals and have been anthologized in Brown Sugar (Penguin/Plume) and Miami Noir (Akashic). He lives in South Florida.