- His style is unexpected, scandalous and effervescent. He shows us how ordinary situations in life can become extraordinary when someone genuinely cares.
I am glad that I was introduced to Stephen Rowley’s “The Guncle,” the “fun” book by my newly found book club in the East Bay. I am so happy that I bumped into its members at The Tellus Cafe in Walnut Creek, and they generously adopted me into their book-loving fold. Somewhat like Guncle. Serendipitous indeed!
Patrick, or Gay Uncle Pat (GUP, for short), has always loved his brother’s children — his precocious niece, Maisie, who looks at him critically through her mother (Sara’s eyes), and his lisping toddler nephew, Grant.
Patrick, who detests being called Gay Uncle Pat, has enjoyed entertaining his relatives on their weeklong visits to Palm Springs. But they haven’t visited in a long time because, as per the kids, Palm Springs is too far and there is no direct flight from Connecticut.
Their childish tell-tale honesty is refreshing but behind that is a heartbreaking mourning for the loss of their mother “who was sick for a long time and then she died.” But when his brother declares that he is checking himself into an addiction clinic for 90 days, the only guardian on the scene for two bereaved children is Patrick. That’s life. Sometimes it throws us a curve ball and whether we are ready or not we have to tackle it.
Patrick is not the optimal choice as a children’s guardian but he has to accept the responsibility willy nilly. Grant and Maisie’s mother was Patrick’s best friend, so he’s also grieving, but his grief is not as personal as the children’s or their dad’s.
The book takes us into an endearing and zany story of the gay uncle Patrick and how he relates to his young wards. First, he tries to stick his head under a mound of pink sand over brunch and desperately tries to enlist friends, other acquaintances including Barry the waiter who does not write down their order on his notepad with a pencil hovering in air.
As he teaches the children how brunch and supper are the best meals and thinks of leaving them in the swimming pool in Palm Springs to have a whale of a time, he discovers that parenting is hard and even a temporary short stint requires a lot of training, patience, quick thinking and accepting your own vulnerability and frailty as a human being.
Patrick is dealing with his own personal tragedy after the loss of his great love in a car crash and is in between jobs of sorts after a successful television career. Now he is single and wanting to start fresh in Palm Springs where is considered young at 34 and not “almost 40” as his six-year-old nephew labels him.
So, it’s not selfish on his part to think about losing three months on the dating scene where suitable love interests would not necessarily swipe “right” on his profile if he was living with two kids. One good thing going for the kids and their GUP is that Patrick has money saved from the popular show for several seasons, so he doesn’t have to work at all to live comfortably. The adventures of this unlikely trio is lighthearted, tender and a rollicking read. I finished it on my flight from Huntsville to Memphis.
It came heavily recommended by my new book club in the East Bay. It was really a joy to read. The way Patrick bonds with the children is so sweet, and you watch them all start to heal each other just a little throughout their time together. Of course, it’s not all just walking around and smelling the roses – there are some hard times, too.
What I loved most about this book beyond the beautiful portrayal of complicated grief and developing a resilient lightheartedness about dealing with it. GUP has remarkable rules to deal with this situation to keep himself sane and lift the children’s burden. “Fun drinks make everything more interesting.” He talks to them as though they are adults, has a horrendous flight to Palm Springs with them, learns about the trauma of losing a tooth in the air, and quickly manages to cope with it. Gives Grant an autographed playbill as a token from the tooth fairy, has a midnight adventure with the children first being scared of the toilet that moves (the heated bidet) then totally enamored by having themselves squirted!
He rescues his Golden Globe from the sticky fingers of his lisping nephew who somehow can enunciate “fudgesicle” clearly. Patrick teaches them about gender neutrality by showing off his silk “caftan” loungewear which is labeled as a “dwess” by the outspoken lisper. They celebrate Christmas in July, complete with a pink Christmas tree. And learn to deal with the neighbors – a “throuple” of gay men.
There is a lot in Rowley’s writing style that reminds me of P.G. Wodehouse. It is unexpected, scandalous and effervescent. He shows us how ordinary situations in life can become extraordinary when someone genuinely cares.
I look forward to more adventures of GUP and the kids, and light-hearted discussions with my new book club members. They don’t seem to judge me. At least, not so far. I am waiting till they start showing me “fingers on noses” before I sit in their car.
With one foot in Huntsville, Alabama, the other in her birth home India and a heart steeped in humanity, writing is a contemplative practice for Monita Soni. She has published hundreds of poems, movie reviews, book critiques, essays and contributed to combined literary works. Her two books are My Light Reflections and Flow through My Heart. You can hear her commentaries on Sundial Writers Corner WLRH 89.3FM.