After 14 years in prison, Gerald "Stew Pot" Reeves, now 31, returns home to live with his mom in Parkland, a black middle-class neighborhood on Chicago's South Side. A frightening delinquent before being sent away, his return sends town residents into a religiously infused tailspin, which only increases when Stew Pot announces that he experienced a religious awakening in prison. Most neighbors are skeptical of his claim, with one notable exception: Mrs. Motley, a widowed retiree and the Reeves's next-door neighbor who loans Stew Pot a Bible..
With uncompromising fervor (and a new pit bull named John the Baptist), Stew Pot appoints himself the moral judge of Parkland. He discovers that a woman on his block is a lesbian and outs her to the neighborhood, the first battle in an escalating war of wills with immediate neighbors: after a mild threat from the block club president, Stew Pot reveals a secret that leaves the president's marriage in ruin; after catching a woman from across the street snooping around his backyard, Stew Pot commits an act of intimidation that leads to her death.
Stew Pot's prison mentor, an African American albino named Brother Crown, is released from prison soon after and moves in with Stew Pot and his mom. His plan is to go on a revival tour, with Stew Pot as his assistant. One night, as Stew Pot, Mrs. Reeves, and Brother Crown are witnessing around the neighborhood, a teenager from the block attempts to burn down the Reeves home, and sets fire to Mrs. Motley's home instead. Neighbors are sure Stew Pot is behind the fire. The retaliations against Stew Pot continue, sending him over an emotional ledge as his life spirals out of control with grave consequences. Through the unforgettable characters of Stew Pot and Mrs. Motley, the novel provides a reflection on God, the living and the dead, and the possibilities of finding love without reservation.