• The Bossy Bookworm

Review of The Guncle by Steven Rowley

The Guncle is full of heart and humor, quirky family love, and fun references to musicals and movies--yet Rowley also offers poignancy, an exploration of grief, and the impossible-seeming prospect of going on after deep loss.

In Steven Rowley's fun, funny, and heartwarming light fiction story The Guncle, aging former sitcom star Patrick is temporarily caring for his niece and nephew.

Patrick's best friend from college (who later married Patrick's brother) has died, and Patrick's brother is going through a health crisis of his own.

Which means setting Patrick and his beloved (but sometimes foreign-to-him) Maisie and Grant loose in his home in Palm Springs, making things up as they go along. They are each going through grief and confusion, but they adore each other and have their love to fall back on as they flounder.

For Gay Uncle Patrick (GUP), life in recent years has been primarily focused on shutting off the outside world, but the demands of a six- and nine-year-old reeling with pain and in desperate need of constancy mean he can't hide anymore. To honor his friend, he'll need to be strong enough for Maisie and Grant, despite his own pain and fears.

I've been on a light-fiction kick lately, but I need some depth in my lighthearted reading in order to feel truly fulfilled. The Guncle delivers with heart and humor, copious fun references to and one-liners from Broadway shows and musicals, various nontraditional families and loving bonds, and a little bit of poignancy that brought a tear to my eye.

Rowley explores grief and how it is a shared--yet completely individual--experience. This is especially interesting as related to the two lost loved ones for which Patrick is not officially able to “claim” a grieving role--he was not a husband to his beloved Joe and so was not considered family, and he was Sara's best friend (and, secondarily, her brother in law), but he doesn't feel he can grieve deeply like a family member who has cultural permission to do so.

I was distracted by the brief, repeated shifts in point of view from Patrick to other characters. I really wanted to stay in Patrick's point of view, and I didn't feel that we gained much insight or information from the jarring moments in which we were swept into the other characters' perspectives.

I loved the glimpses into show business, the foray into new love, and the uniquely fun, supportive, freeing relationship Patrick establishes with his niece and nephew.

Do you have any Bossy thoughts about this book?

The author is married to Byron Lane, the author of A Star Is Bored, a book I loved.

Rowley is from Maine and now lives in Palm Springs, and he also wrote The Editor and Lily and the Octopus.

Have you read either of his other books?