Tuesday, September 30, 2008
Seventy Times Seven by Salvatore Sapienza
Reviewed by Alan Chin
Vito Fortunato, a twenty-seven year old, gay Brother in a Catholic order finds himself torn between his spiritual longings and his carnal desires. Set in the early 1990s, Brother Fortunato is only months away from taking his final vows. Although he and his gay friends frequent gay bars, and he occasionally wakes up with a hangover and wearing only a cock ring, Vito struggles to maintain his celibacy, his spiritual purity, and his ability to forgive others, forgive the Church, and forgive himself. But when Vito is assigned to spend the summer volunteering at a San Francisco AIDS center, he falls in love with Gabriel, a divorced landscaper. When those feelings of love are returned, Vito must choose between his sexual identity and his spiritual idealism.
Sapienza, himself a former Catholic Brother, obviously has an in-depth knowledge of the subject matter -- both the teachings of the Catholic Church and the struggle to integrate Christian beliefs with gay sexual desires -- and it is because of his knowledge that the story comes off seeming so real. This is not a story about a closeted priest who struggles to accept his sexuality; it is a love story, and more importantly, a story about finding dignity, and embracing ourselves. Although I had several issues with this book, the love story that develops between Vito and Gabriel is touching, and a pleasure to read. It made me overlook the many other things that were not so well done.
The story was slow to draw me in, and I didn’t much care for the main characters early on, but that eventually changed as the characters exposed more of themselves. I found the two or three main characters had a wealth of depth, but most of the secondary characters were paper-thin. The main character, Vito, also came off as too preachy in several areas, but that was in keeping with his character and can be easily overlooked.
The read is occasionally jarring because of the abysmal copy editing: jumping back and forth from present tense to past tense for no apparent reason, dozens of typographical and grammatical errors, and a blaring font change. I’ve never before read a published book that was so poorly copyedited.
Those negatives said, I still found this an enjoyable and touching story. I give it three out of five stars.