A SON CALLED GABRIEL

Damian McNicholl, Author
Damian McNicholl, Author . CDS Books $22.95 (343p) ISBN 978-1-59315-018-1
Reviewed on: 06/14/2004
Release date: 06/01/2004
Book - 197 pages - 978-1-907756-14-6
Paperback - 346 pages - 978-1-59315-231-4
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An Ulster adolescent struggles to come to terms with his homosexuality in the 1960s and '70s in McNicholl's fine, compassionate coming-of-age story. Gabriel Harkin, the eldest child in a working-class family, is a sensitive boy: he gets picked on at school, and he'd rather play with girls than kiss them. When a predatory older boy introduces him to sex ("I'll be the doctor and examine you, then you do the same to me"), Gabriel's desires cause terrible guilt; such acts, according to the Church, are "abominations." Though eventually Gabriel overcomes the intimidation of his classmates, figuring out his sexual identity proves more difficult, as he bounces back and forth between dates with girls and clandestine trysts with boys. There are secrets, too, surrounding Gabriel's Uncle Brendan, a priest who left Ireland for Kenya after a family scandal. McNicholl paints a rich picture of Gabriel's life and all its conflicted messages about sex: while his mother is so prudishly Catholic she can't bear to watch a TV kiss, one of the priests at Gabriel's church sexually abuses him. Gabriel wants to be like the other boys, but when he gets himself a serious girlfriend, matters explode. Awkward, sometimes tender sex scenes—with both genders—recall all the clumsy uncertainties of adolescence. McNicholl is a graceful writer, and his is a worthy debut. Agent, James Levine . (June)

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