My husband died quite unexpectedly seven years ago. This is only relevant so that you will understand that I have really, really, REALLY avoided books that address grief too directly. I talk about grief as a theme quite frequently…in, for example, in Tuesday Mooney Talks To Ghosts, I talked about the teen mourning her recently-gone mom. I like books that address grief and grief themes indirectly…like looking directly at the sun, I still find that examining grief too closely still feels like a painful mistake.
Which brings us to The Guncle.
From the bestselling author of Lily and the Octopus and The Editor comes a warm and deeply funny novel about a once-famous gay sitcom star whose unexpected family tragedy leaves him with his niece and nephew for the summer.
Patrick, or Gay Uncle Patrick (GUP, for short), has always loved his niece, Maisie, and nephew, Grant. That is, he loves spending time with them when they come out to Palm Springs for weeklong visits, or when he heads home to Connecticut for the holidays. But in terms of caretaking and relating to two children, no matter how adorable, Patrick is, honestly, overwhelmed.
So when tragedy strikes and Maisie and Grant lose their mother and Patrick's brother has a health crisis of his own, Patrick finds himself suddenly taking on the role of primary guardian. Despite having a set of "Guncle Rules" ready to go, Patrick has no idea what to expect, having spent years barely holding on after the loss of his great love, a somewhat-stalled acting career, and a lifestyle not-so-suited to a six- and a nine-year-old. Quickly realizing that parenting--even if temporary--isn't solved with treats and jokes, Patrick's eyes are opened to a new sense of responsibility, and the realization that, sometimes, even being larger than life means you're unfailingly human.
With the humor and heart we've come to expect from bestselling author Steven Rowley, The Guncle is a moving tribute to the power of love, patience, and family in even the most trying of times.
First, look at that cover. Doesn’t it just scream ‘witty, funny, charming’? Does it also telegraph ‘brutal, emotional, scarring’? No?
And that is my problem with this book. It was not as advertised. That doesn’t mean that it wasn’t wonderful; it was. You will fall in love with Patrick, and with the ‘niblings’, Grant and Maisie. You will root for them to heal, to make it through the forest to the safety of the camp on the other side. You will root against anyone or anything that poses a threat. You will worry, and laugh, and be charmed by this whole family.
But the book jacket left out an important detail and that is that Patrick is grieving a much more direct loss. And that loss is put front and center on several occasions. And as someone who endured a similar loss, well, it kind of felt like a gut punch.
I’ve taken over the last few weeks to adding a fairly robust set of trigger warnings to review posts, largely because everyone has the thing that they don’t want to read about, and when you are hit with one, unexpectedly, it can suck all the air out of the room. Part of me wishes that I had known more about this book going in. But then I wouldn’t have read it.
And that would have been a shame. It really is lovely. Just know going in that there are moments of real darkness in what looks like a lighthearted read.