The Wisdom of Stones is about living your truth and not allowing another person to rule you.
Ben, a college senior, promised God that he would be a Southern Baptist preacher, but Ben can’t pray away the gay.
Set in Upstate South Carolina in the early 1990s, The Wisdom of Stones intertwines the stories of Ben Stark and his grandfather, Charlie Phelps. Ben’s father deserted him and his mother died right before Ben’s 7th birthday, so Ben was raised by his Grandpa and Mee Maw.
The story opens with the funeral of Ben’s mother. At the cemetery, on a cold January day, Ben finds an arrowhead in the upturned dirt beside her gravesite. He gives it to Grandpa who tells him a funny story about a baseball player named Climax Clinton. This begins a lifelong barter system where Ben gives Grandpa a stone and Grandpa tells Ben a story. Ben loves Grandpa’s stories about hoboing during the Great Depression and moonshining during Prohibition.
In the summer of 1977, Mee Maw is diagnosed with breast cancer, and the doctors don’t expect her to live. Ben prayed for God to heal her, even promising to be a Southern Baptist preacher if God answered his prayer. Mee Maw recovered.
In the summer of 1991, Ben intends to keep his promise to the Lord and is a pre-seminary student at Stonewall Jackson University. But Ben struggles with a “secret sin,” with urges so powerful that they threaten his relationship with his girlfriend, his full scholarship to seminary and even his immortal soul. Ben is gay, and even with weekly reparative sessions with Pastor Hardy, Ben can’t resist the urges, especially when the quarterback of the college football team keeps showing up at his doorstep.
Grandpa Charlie is acclimating to his first year in Dogwood Assisted Living Center. Charlie has early stage Alzheimer’s and can’t live on his own, not even with Ben taking care of him. Grandpa makes the decision to move to Dogwood, and he’s happy there, especially after he meets Viola, a black woman. Their relationship creates a scandal among the other residents of the nursing home, but Grandpa’s motto has always been “Live life by your own rules.” It’s the first precept of the Hobo Code.
As Grandpa’s Alzheimer’s progresses, he starts to tell Ben stories about an interracial relationship he had in the 1930s. Ben begins to see similarities between his own struggles and those of his Grandpa, and he realizes that Grandpa’s only regret in life was losing his first love because of what other people thought.
Ben learns that “being gay” can take many different paths: Derek, the football quarterback who swears he’s straight; Phillip, a Baptist minister who goes to gay bars on Saturday nights and preaches sermons on Sunday morning; Jon Michael, whose lover died of AIDS and who is losing his battle with the disease but maintains an upbeat attitude; and from Kevin, a nursing home administrator who is out and proud.
After reading a book about Homosexuality and Bible, Ben realizes he can be both gay and Christian.
But Pastor Hardy worries that Ben is condemning himself to an eternity in Hell, and he won’t allow that happen. Pastor Hardy insists that Ben preach a sermon telling the whole congregation that he was gay but that Jesus transformed his life, or Pastor Hardy won’t give him the letter of moral recommendation for seminary.
Faced with breaking his promise to God or being true to himself, Ben relies on the stories he learns from his Grandpa to make the choice.