Rating: 3 stars
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Length: Novel


When Anthony was 16, he was molested by his priest when, after a car accident, he turned to the man for comfort and guidance. All his life, Anthony was taught that priests deserve respect, and when the priest holds him partly responsible — after all, if he weren’t gay he wouldn’t have been aroused; and if he hadn’t wanted it, he wouldn’t have come — and so Anthony says nothing, even when it happens a second time, and a third. But his desire to become a priest isn’t diminished by this event, only strengthened, as he thinks that the vows of celibacy the church enforces will end any questions about his sexual preference.

Kevin was a track star who had a crush on his priest. When he was accepted to study in Rome, his relationship with Father Bill became physical. Bill was Kevin’s first love, but the priest wasn’t interested in love as much as he was with sex, and the lessons he and the church taught Kevin — to hide what he was, to enjoy sex, to see sex as something fun and pleasant with no strings or hearts attached — are ones he carries with him even into seminary.

When Anthony and Kevin meet, it’s love, an honest emotional and spiritual attraction. But no matter how much he loves Anthony, Kevin refuses to be faithful. He knows he hurts Anthony every time he goes off to fuck another seminary student, or member of the clergy, but he’s unwilling to either give Anthony up or to stop his numerous affairs. This push and pull defines much of their relationship, with Kevin’s faithlessness constantly brushing against Anthony’s desire for constancy.

Miguel, from Texas, first knew he wanted to join the church when he saw a local priest stand up for a wounded, undocumented immigrant whose legs were been broken. When the priest learned that the hospital was reluctant to treat the immigrant because of his lack of insurance, the priests stated calmly that the church would pay. For Miguel, it showed him a man able to be there for people in their darkest moments, to spread God’s love and light to anyone, and it’s that moment that made Miguel wish to be a priest. However, Miguel struggles with the orthodoxy of the church, which demands conformity and greater obedience as the progressive steps of Vatican II are slowly walked back by a new Pope. He doesn’t question his desire to serve, only how best to serve … and when he falls in love with a woman, those questions become even louder and harder to answer.

Set in the 1980s, this fictional exploration of the lives and loves of three young seminarians on the path to becoming Catholic priests is inspired by actual people and their own stories about faith, the church, celibacy and sex, obedience to the Pope, and their own understanding of what it means to serve God. For a story set in Rome with its characters being seminary students at the Vatican, I expected there to be more of a glimpse into the church itself. How students are taught, their duties, their lives, their relationship with their God and one another. Instead, it reads more like a salacious adventure with Kevin going through the beds of practically every student —  and a few teachers — all while sneaking back into Anthony’s bed to tell him the details. We’re told the American students are causing strife, but other than a brief argument over clothing, it’s never examined as anything important. Instead, the focus is on sex and celibacy as their ordination approaches and, in theory, Miguel, Kevin, and Anthony will have to take their vows. And then decisions are made and the story ends.

While all three characters find a path for themselves — be it in service to the church or not — I didn’t feel much catharsis. The story meanders, taking a leisurely route with a salacious focus on the sex lives of priests with nothing much to say about it. While there are moments where faith is discussed, it’s absent of any emotion as the author simply tells us that a character questions and then comes to an answer, and it feels scripted and rote. I was left unmoved and uninterested in the characters or how many people Kevin had slept with.

There are also quite a few issues with the actual writing of this book with numerous malapropisms: Anthony becomes Kevin for a line, rouse instead of ruse, triste instead of tryst, admired instead of admitted, we’re instead of were, bowls instead of bowels, and so many more. There are also extra commas here and there, an occasional punctuation error, or a dropped word or two. All of this makes for some difficult reading, which isn’t helped by the constant POV switches and stilted, sometimes clumsy sentence structure. The writing style is simple, relying heavily on telling and explaining rather than showing, with a lot of repetition and “looking back” or “thinking back” moments to insert past scenes or events. It feels distant and more like I’m being told a story rather than being invited to witness character’s grow and change.

All in all, I would pass on this book. I didn’t enjoy the writing style, and the characters and their escapades left no impression on me. I understand that this is a story inspired by the real lives of real people, but the fictionalized versions that appear in this book were bland and boring.