Book Review Time: The Guncle

The Guncle is absolutely adorable. Hilarious and sweet. Heart-felt and tender. This novel is so good I didn’t want it to end.

Patrick O’Hara is the title character. A former sitcom star, Patrick now lives a life of leisure in self-imposed exile in Palm Springs. Apart from the requisite weekend brunch, and idle moments spent examining the relationship of the “throuple” next-door, Patrick’s personal life is rather sedate. The strange part is, it appears he likes it that way. However, when tragedy strikes, Patrick’s life is completely upended. Sara, Patrick’s sister-in-law, passes away after a courageous battle with cancer. Her death leaves Patrick’s brother, Greg, widowed, and his niece and nephew, Maisie and Grant, motherless. But Patrick is also deeply affected by the event. He and Sara were friends long before they were family. Best friends, in fact. But in recent years, marriage, parenthood, distance and illness, drove a wedge in their relationship. Sara’s death elicits a sense of guilt in Patrick, as well as a desire to help his family in any way possible. That desire to help is immediately tested when Greg asks Patrick to take Maisie and Grant for the summer, while he enters a rehab program for a prescription pill addiction. Patrick, ever the drama king, is initially reluctant as he envisions the myriad ways in which his niece and nephew’s presence will infringe upon his carefully manicured life. Eventually, however, Patrick relents. His family’s need is too great for him not to step up. Patrick owes it to Sara; her memory, ever-present, in the form of her grief-stricken children.

I know. I know. None of this sounds funny. And it isn’t. It’s the story that Steven Rowley has constructed within the sadness, that’ll have you rolling in fits of laughter. Having read his other works, I recognize Rowley’s ability to create interesting and endearing family stories. He grazes complicated family dynamics, ever so slightly turning up the tension. But as soon as the atmosphere gets too heated, Rowley takes a step or two back, opens the window a touch, and lets a cooling bit of humor breeze in. These moments of levity feel necessary. The release of tension. It’s a Rowley signature.

The character of Patrick is so fun and funny. Affectionately referred to as Guncle (Gay Uncle) and GUP (Gay Uncle Pat), Patrick is an endless fount of riotous wit, witticisms, and gay cultural references. His personal rules on life that he bestows on Maisie and Grant at regular intervals are equal parts hysterical and enlightening. The bond that subsequently develops between Patrick, Maisie, and Grant over this delicate summer is powerful. Grant, with his missing baby teeth and constant lisp, bombards Patrick with questions (some nonsensical, some strangely profound.) His puckish nature belies a deep longing for his deceased mother. Maisie is bright and inquisitive. She negotiates grief in a way that challenges Patrick and forces him to come face to face with his own unaddressed issues. As much as the children need their Guncle, slipping into his room in the middle of the night to sleep on the floor next to his bed, Patrick needs them as well. Maisie and Grant rekindle Patrick’s spirit which has lain dormant for years. The children remind Patrick that life is for the living, and real connections are priceless.

A beautiful story of love lost, love memorialized, and love recaptured. A study of the complexity of grief and the strength of family. The Guncle is a wonderful read.


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