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Gerard Cabrera
Homo Novus
It’s Holy Week 1987, and Fr. Linus Fitzgerald has just learned he has AIDS. Orlando Rosario, the Puerto Rican boy he seduced at fourteen, is now a man sitting by his bed, and studying for the priesthood. In alternating chapters, Linus and Orlando reflect on their desires and dreams, secrets and sins, hopes and faith, and the paths that brought them together. As the narrative progresses, each character reflects on their lives and how their histories have become inextricably bound together by their shared desires, secrets, sins, and faith. By the end of the story, the reader comes away with disturbing and powerful history of transgression and hope for redemption.
It’s fitting that Cabrera opens this potent, deftly crafted short novel in a Catholic hospital called the Mercy. There, in 1987, a “very, very sick” Fr. Linus Fitzgerald drifts between his pained present and memories that often edge up against “rare things that thrilled him with the unsaid”—memories of temptation, sin, regret, and forbidden passions. “To a particular type, one primed for its peculiarities, the priesthood would be revealed as a way to suppress desires,” Cabrera writes, that precision typical of both his careful prose and Fitzgerald’s tendency to leave the unsaid not just unsaid but unacknowledged, even as it dictates his behavior. But soon the worst is spoken aloud, by a doctor: Fitzgerald has HIV/AIDS, at a time when treatments are still uncertain. The bishop’s response to the news: “Was it, just answer if you can, was it a blood transfusion?”

Soon, Fitzgerald is joined at the hospital by the person he cares for most, 21-year-old Orlando Rosario, a young man training to be a priest himself—and the object of Fitzgerald’s affections since Orlando was 14, when the priest first seduced him. Writing from both men’s perspectives, Cabrera handles this charged material with rare sensitivity, empathy, and intelligence, never shying away from the priest’s grooming, the pleasure and pain both have experienced, or the serious intimacy the men now share. Shrewdly controlled prose sparkles with feeling and slices with insights, many challenging, many aching.

A spirit of mercy powers this humane story of transgression, abuse, sin, and connection. Sexually frank, emotionally bold, and always arresting, Homo Novus digs deep into relationships most fiction shies away from, laying bare the toll of repression and secret-keeping, while charting a rich generational shift at an impossibly perilous moment for gay men. The final pages will stir tears from readers of serious fiction.

Takeaway: This stellar novel lays bare the heart and secrets of a priest with AIDS in 1987.

Great for fans of: Jaime Manrique’s Like This Afternoon Forever, Michael J. O'Loughlin’s Hidden Mercy.

Production grades
Cover: B
Design and typography: A
Illustrations: N/A
Editing: A
Marketing copy: A