Summary Review: A revealing story about the conflict between a priest deciding on taking his final vows, or living a life of integrity with the man he loves, neither choice being an easy one.
When Chris meets Kevin at his brother’s school, he instantly gets hot for teacher. He can only hope that the sexy guy is gay. Later, when Kevin shows up at the gym where Chris works, Chris is sure he’s got him hooked. A shared kiss is absolutely electric but then Kevin turns tail and runs. What the hell? Maybe he’s in the closet.
Yes, in fact, Kevin is in the closet, Deep in the closet. He has to be. He’s going to be a priest. While he’s very attracted to Chris, he simply can’t pursue it. Giving in to that attraction would ruin his life. Still, he can’t deny what he feels so instead he vows to stay away from Chris.
But steering clear is not so easy when what you’ve found is Almost Heaven.
This topic is one that I don’t often encounter in M/M books because many publishers and authors seem afraid to tackle the issue of gay priests in love leaving the Church. They don’t want to offend some readers, but the actual leaving occurs more often than we know of in real life. As a lapsed Catholic, I was really pleased when I read the blurb for Almost Heaven and I wanted to review this book because I was interested in seeing whether Kimberly Gardner would deal realistically with the topic of a priest falling in love with another man, before taking his final vows, or if the story would be a whitewash. I also wanted to see how she addressed the many related issues such as family acceptance (or not), integration into society if the decision was to leave the Church, and the reaction of the Church’s representative. Being such a short book I knew it was impossible to address all of these issues in depth but I figured there was an opportunity to at least cover a couple of them.
In Almost Heaven Christian Talleo, a personal trainer, met Kevin O’Neill at his brother’s Catholic school and assumed that he was a teacher, which he was, but Kevin forgot to mention that he was also studying for the priesthood and was pretty close to taking his final vows of celibacy. Kevin at 24 hadn’t really experienced much of what life had to offer and he was still a virgin, consequently he seemed like the ideal candidate for priesthood, having never tasted the forbidden fruit. His family was deeply religious and steeped in the teachings and traditions of the Church, and his Uncle Rick, to whom he was very close, was also a Catholic priest. When he met Chris he was attracted to him but knew that any sex would be out of the question because of his vocation. Unfortunately for Kevin, that attraction brought a whole raft of problems which he was ill equipped to handle, that would affect the rest of his life.
When Chris saw Kevin all he could think about was hot his brother’s teacher was. He wasn’t sure at first if Kevin was gay but it became clear soon after they met that Kevin was also also attracted, because Chris tried his usual moves and was not rebuffed. Before he left the school Chris invited Kevin to drop by the gym where he worked and gave him his business card. A couple of nights later Kevin showed up at the gym, all the while trying to stifle his doubts about being there since he had no intention of signing up for a trainer, and the only reason he was there was to see Chris again. When Chris saw him their attraction went into high gear and they ended up in the staff room where they kissed. From there everything went downhill (or uphill depending on your perspective) and they became so excited they ended up giving each other hand jobs, but Kevin felt so guilty about betraying his vocation that he ran away.
A few days subsequent to this debacle Chris went at the school looking for Kevin, but when he found him there was an unexpected development when his brother Mark addressed him as ‘Father,’ and Chris realized then what and who Kevin was. He was devastated! Now he was the one who couldn’t leave fast enough and the enormity of Kevin’s betrayal was overwhelming. Kevin did run after him and tried to explain that he wasn’t yet a priest, but Chris was very angry and he couldn’t deal with the implications of falling for someone who was going to be a priest. Moreover, the fact that Kevin in effect had lied to him, was even worse. The ensuing argument ended with them all over each other again and Chris left, vowing never to see or talk to Kevin again. Kevin then realized that he needed help to decide what to do. He could not go to Confession to seek spiritual guidance and the only person he could talk to was his Uncle Rick whom he asked to hear his confession.
Kevin and Chris were well drawn and I especially liked how Kevin’s choices were laid out. No matter what he decided he would hurt the people he loved and who loved him. If he admitted to his adviser that he was gay he would not be able to continue in the priesthood. To lie would be a sin but it would allow him to take his final vows and become a priest, a vocation for which he had trained all his adult life. This would make his family happy, but what would that do to Chris, the man he was beginning to love? His adviser, Monsignor Stephen Martinelli offered him an out which I thought was pretty devious, and he had the option of taking the path of least resistance. On the other hand, if he left the Church because he was gay, what would that do to his family who was so religious? Would he make the right decision knowing that no matter what it was, those he loved would be hurt?
IMO Almost Heaven presented a balanced perspective of the trauma and emotional devastation of making a decision about whether or not to be ordained and how this would affect Kevin and Chris. I also thought that Kevin’s uncle who heard his confession was a wonderful character who helped him see that there was really only one choice. I loved the camaraderie between Chris and his younger brother Mark and I thought that Kevin’s sister Colleen was a good friend and support to him. All in all the characterizations in this book were well done and almost all of the supporting characters were three dimensional.
For such a short book, at 106 PDF pages, Almost Heaven went into more depth about the issue of a gay priest in love than I thought would have been addressed, and I really liked how Kimberly Gardner tried to deal with most of the problems. I had a couple of niggles, one of them was how strong the Church really was in turning away gay griests especially when new enrolments were negligible, and the story skated over that aspect a bit in the approach taken by the Monsignor. However, this was an admirable effort to integrate a love story within the context of either betraying the man you loved or the Church. My major niggle was why Kevin was almost at the point of ordination when he knew that he was gay (even though he had not acted on it), all the while being aware that the Church did not accept gay priests.
I hate to mention sex in a book about the Church and priests 🙂 but I thought that Chris was very patient with his pupil in bed, even when Kevin told him exactly what he wanted him to do. BTW the sex was very hot. LOL. Would you enjoy this story if you weren’t religious? Most definitely. It was quite funny as well!
Almost Heaven is part of Loose Id’s Coming Out series.