Casting the First Stone
Kimberla Lawson Roby
Indulging weakness of the flesh can lead down a slippery path. Just ask the Rev. Curtis Black, half of the couple at the center of Kimberla Lawson Roby's new book Casting the First Stonehe's been sliding quickly ever since he arrived in Chicago two years ago.
The third novel from Roby, whose previous book charted on Blackboard, an African-American bestsellers' list, Casting the First Stone tackles corruption in the black church, telling the tale of Tanya Black, the minister's wife, and her gradual realization of his cheating ways.
The story opens in an affluent Chicago suburb. Curtis Black is the senior pastor of Faith Missionary Baptist Church, a prominent black congregation. To Tanya's disgust, Curtis calls on his flock to donate increasing sums of money to the church, preaching, "God has laid an important message on my heart. He wants me to ask every adult who is here right now to give an extra $20 this morning."
The parishioners don't know that Curtis' pleas for money have less to do with the Lord than the fact that he has at least two mistresses to support, along with his picturesque middle-class life with Tanya and their 6-year-old daughter Alicia. As Curtis' true nature comes to light, Tanya reevaluates her marriage, her own temptations, and her spiritual commitments.
Roby's less-than-subtle clues to social status become groaningly bad (Tanya "parked her silver-toned Dodge Durango," walked in the house through the "three car garage," and "dropped her black Coach duffel-style purse on the sofa"), but the author paints an engaging picture of the Blacks' lives. Tanya's comfortable lifestyle is underwritten by her husband's ruthless ambition for money and prestige, and ultimately Tanya must decide where her own ethics lie as she considers dissolving her marriage.
Roby's sensitive portrayal of Tanya's relationship with her daughter binds the entire story. As her marriage disintegrates, Tanya recognizes how deeply her marital discord affects Alicia. After a particularly gruesome revelation about Curtis' betrayals, Alicia turns to her mother: "'Mom, we're getting divorced, aren't we?' she asked as if she was part of the marriage, and Tanya realized that she was."
From Sinclair Lewis' novel Elmer Gantry to Robert Duvall's film The Apostle, art has always insisted that ministers be mere mortals, made of flesh and blood. But unlike those characters, Curtis never gets the full treatment. Readers never get more than a glimpse of his personal reasons for having affairs, lying to the church's board of deacons, or physically abusing his wife. In the end, Curtis is nothing more than a played-out fool whose shenanigans leave the good, upstanding Christians shaking their heads and clucking about what is going on with people today.
Kimberla Lawson Roby reads from and signs Casting the First Stone Feb. 16 at 6:30 P.M. at the Poe Room in the Enoch Pratt Free Library's Central Library. Call (410) 396-5430 for more information.