I’m not a very spiritual or religious person. In fact, I’m more likely to refer to the Bible as a collection of well told stories than an actual doctrine to live my life by. Having that said, I found Tempest Tales to be an enjoyable read; though the ending was disappointing.
Tempest Tales tells the story of Tempest Landry, a black man who is “accidentally” killed by New York’s finest. Upon meeting Saint Peter, Tempest is denied access to heaven because of a long list of sins he committed during his life. Tempest refuses to go to hell, arguing that the sins that he committed were not sins but simply necessary evils because he was a black man born in Harlem; in other words, he had no choice. Until this point, no soul has refused eternal judgment. So Saint Peter sends Tempest back to Harlem, where a accounting angel tries to convince him to accept Saint Peter’s judgment. The story that ensues is philosophical and thought provoking. Is being a man of color born into poverty an automatic set back to receiving heavenly rewards? Is sin for blacks the same as it is for whites? These are the questions asked by Tempest of his accounting Angel throughout the novel and I have to say, a lot of them are questions that I’ve asked myself. Not based on a racial discussion but on the big sin/ little sin discussion. When I was growing up, my grandmother was always sure to make me understand that there is no such thing as a big sin or a little sin; “a sin, is a sin, is a sin” she used to say. But being a precocious little brat, was never willing to accept this definition.
“What about the man who kills someone in self defense, or kills someone to protect his family? Will he go to hell for that?”
“And the man who steals because he’s hungry or because he can’t provide for his children? Does he go to hell too?”
I realize now this was my childish way of searching for logic in something that isn’t based on logic, but faith; which is a still a strange concept for me.
Over all, I found the novel entertaining but the ending was a bit of a letdown. I was expecting a grand epiphany; something that would make me say, AHA! I was right! I didn’t get that satisfaction. It felt like Mosley was treading the thin line between blasphemy and art and I thought it would have been braver to end the novel a different way. Even considering that, I would recommend this novel as a good, thought provoking read.