cover image Via Negativa

Via Negativa

Daniel Hornsby. Knopf, $22.95 (246p) ISBN 978-0-525-65847-4

A former Catholic priest grapples with his unorthodox clerical career in Hornsby’s affecting debut. Father Dan, ousted from his rectory in Indiana for clashing with its conservative leaders, takes his “mobile monk’s cell” of a car on the road, packing plenty of Prince CDs and sporting a new beard that is “halfway between a Francis and a Peter.” Denver is the destination, home of his old friend Paul, who became a Unitarian minister after marrying a man. Along the way, Dan rescues a coyote after witnessing it being hit by a minivan and, at a bar in Kansas, is asked by the bar’s owner to take a pistol off her hands. Dan accepts, and gets the idea to use it on James Bruno, a retired pedophile priest. As he makes stops at kitschy tourist destinations and dithers over releasing the coyote he’s named Bede, Dan reflects on how he chafed at pastoral duties, believing he would have “done much better in some remote monastery on a chalky Italian cliff... or some other century.” As he drives, he reveals a heartbreaking secret that propels the looming confrontation with Bruno, farther down the road in Montana. Dan’s regrets and doubts about his impact as a priest come through amid acerbic humor, and the kinetic prose keeps the melancholic, slow burn kindled throughout. Hornsby has got the goods, and his stirring tale of self-reflection, revenge, and theological insight isn’t one to miss. Agent: Chris Clemans, Janklow & Nesbit Assoc. (Aug.)