REVIEW: The Guncle by Steven Rowley

In brief: Patrick is a fun uncle to his niece and nephew. But when he has to look after them for an entire summer after tragedy, things become more difficult. Not only do the kids need to face their grief, but Patrick needs to as well.

The good: Fantastic story with both sparkles and tears.

The not-so-good: I want more!

Why I chose it: Read a lot of great reviews of this novel when it was released in the US. Thanks to Simon & Schuster for the copy.

Year: 2021

Pages: 330

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Setting: Mainly Palm Springs, California

Rating: 10 out of 10

After reading some serious novels that weren’t always happy or uplifting, I was in the mood for a read that made me smile. While The Guncle has some teary moments, it’s ultimately a happy read about family and finding a way forward (with a giant pink Christmas tree for good measure).

Patrick is a successful actor who now spends his days in Palm Springs quietly grieving after the death of his partner. He’s not sure what he wants next from life. He’s happy to be GUP (Gay Uncle Patrick) to his niece and nephew, but after the death of their mother (who also happens to be Patrick’s best friend from college), Patrick is asked to take them for the summer. A few months is a lot different to a few hours and Patrick finds himself having to be father, grief counsellor and fun GUP to Grant and Maisie. Of course, it’s not easy, resulting in Guncle rules of varying severity and explaining terms like brunch and lupper. The road is bumpy at times, but there are lots of fun moments as the trio try to find their way forward in a world that has changed forever for them.

The kids are charming without being annoying. Maisie, the older child, is thoughtful beyond her years, but still a kid (i.e., persuaded by cake for the right reasons). Grant has a lisp that make things delightfully confusing at times and his 6-year-old view of the world is refreshing.  Patrick’s life in Palm Springs, while obviously lonely, has some quirks that make it delightful. His neighbours include a throuple going by the acronym JED who have great insight and skills and an undriven Tesla sits in his garage. Patrick’s sister Clara (somewhat the wicked witch of the story, hiding her own pain behind the need to look after the children ‘properly’) gate crashes Patrick’s home at the time of a spectacular (yet wholesome) party. She then complains about Patrick’s Amazon alias (he’s famous, duh of course he needs some sort of alias to buy internet junk) before delivering a shock to the system. Meanwhile, Patrick’s agent’s assistant wants him back to work so she can get a promotion which makes for some funny scenes. Yet the best scenes are between Patrick and the children as they make their messy way forward, with not one but two quotes from The Sound of Music (amongst other movies, but these were the best for me).

The story is funny, charming and sweet without being over the top, perhaps due to the contrasting grief through the narrative and Patrick’s snark. It’s never boring or dwelling on a scene for too long, with a great pace and snappy new jokes and random facts. It’s brilliantly written and got me interested in learning more about Palm Springs. It would also make a great movie or limited series, not just for the storyline, but the visuals of Patrick’s pool toys and that giant pink Christmas tree in July!

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