cover image The Town of Babylon

The Town of Babylon

Alejandro Varela. Astra House, $27 (320p) ISBN 978-1-66260-103-3

A gay Latinx man reckons with his past when he returns home for his 20th high school class reunion in Varela’s dazzling debut. Back in his unnamed suburban hometown, Andres, now a professor of public health, crosses paths at the reunion with Jeremy, his first love; and Paul, a homophobic bully. As an old malaise returns, he confronts his feelings about his older brother’s death a decade earlier, and Varela sets the stage for a series of backstories. After being spurned by Jeremy as a high school senior, Andres begins frequenting a local cruising site known as the Queer Steer. Of Andres’s burgeoning identity, Varela writes, “Gay was after all dangerous.... Gay was a death sentence. Gay was a target.” Now, in the days after the reunion, Andres jeopardizes his marriage by reigniting things with Jeremy. He also confronts Paul, a Christian minister at a storefront church, about beating a gay man at the Queer Steer years earlier. Varela ably describes teenage Andres’s conflicted feelings toward Paul, who overcompensated in high school for being scrawny: “a push and pull of desire, belief, and self-hatred.” Throughout, he wrings a great deal of emotion from Andres’s return. It makes for an incandescent bildungsroman. (Mar.)