Book Review: The Guncle by Steven Rowley



Title: The Guncle
Author:  Steven Rowley 
Publisher: G.P. Putnam and Sons
Released: April 5, 2022
Pages: 368
ISBN 10: 0525542302
Stars: 5.0

“Grief orbits the heart. Some days the circle is greater. Those are the good days. You have room to move and dance and breathe. Some days the circle is tighter. Those are the hard ones.”

In The Guncle by Steven Rowley, six-year-old Grant (who has a lisp and a loose tooth) and his nine-year-old sister Maisie have just lost their mother, Sara, to cancer. Their gay uncle Patrick’s (GUP) brother Greg is their father, but he’s a pill addict, so he asks Patrick to look after his children while he goes to rehab for three months. The timing probably couldn’t be worse for the children who live in Connecticut, but there’s no time like the present to get sober. Former comedy sitcom television actor and Golden Globe-winning Patrick (The People Upstairs) has taken a break from acting and being a celebrity for the past four years and is still grieving the death of his partner, Joe. With his best friend Sara’s death, he’s reeling.

After making plenty of excuses as to why he can’t step in and become a surrogate parent and take Grant and Maisie home to Palm Springs for the summer, forty-three-year-old Patrick finally acquiesces. Their mom was once his college roommate and best friend before becoming his sister-in-law. Patrick, Grant and Maisie are grieving in their own ways, and as time goes by, Patrick realizes it’s time for him to rejoin the land of the living and to be the fabulous Guncle he knows he’s capable of.

Steven Rowley has written a hilariously heartwarming gay icon for the 21st century in Patrick O’Hara, whose quick wit and colourful sparkling style have me missing having a gay best friend something fierce. While Patrick may seem shallow at times, he’s anything but. He’s full of wit, wisdom, and emotional intelligence. Rowley includes flashback scenes so that we understand just how important Sara was to him, and we watch Patrick fall in love with her children and them with him.

Patrick, a.k.a. Jack Curtis (his pseudonym inspired by Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis in Some Like It Hot), creates Guncle Rules for them to live by while residing at his mid-century desert estate with a pool in Palm Springs. Patrick teaches Grant and Maisie about what he holds dear, including brunch, lupper, caftans, and cocktails. Grant and Maisie teach him about responsibility, growing up, putting someone else first, and that he can open his heart to love again.

In one of my favourite scenes, Grant is bored in a restaurant and wants to watch YouTube. Patrick launches into a perfectly on-point diatribe about what’s wrong with social media and how “the cult of self-expression” is “just one big masturbatory waste of time!” I could kiss Rowley for writing that!

Patrick gets a puppy for the kids, employs distraction bombs to keep them under control, and hosts an off-season Christmas party to reconnect with his friends and Hollywood community, where he meets his new love interest, Emory, a much younger actor, who is game for everything.

When Patrick’s sister Clara crashes his party to come to take the kids home to Connecticut, we learn how quickly siblings “devolve into the language of childhood.” And haven’t we, with siblings, been there? However, they ultimately reach a truce because they love each other and want what’s best for their niece and nephew.

Patrick’s genuine and humorous explanations about his life, how he entertains the kids (never sweating the small stuff), and shares stories about their mother go a long way toward letting Grant and Maisie feel heard, engaged, safe, and loved. They survive an earthquake and three months in the summer heat of Palm Springs together, and they all learn how essential Guncle Rule #8 is. “Live your life to the fullest every single day because every day is a gift.” (I also loved Guncle Rules #2, #12, #13, and #16, but you’ll have to read The Guncle to find out what they are.)

I read Steven Rowley’s first book, Lily and the Octopus, and loved it, so I followed him on Instagram. His world is vibrant with colour, love, laughter, tears, music, sunshine, and cocktails, and I want to live in it! I bought The Guncle because I knew I would love it, and I do. And I will buy all his books because they make me happy. Equal parts endearing, poignant, naughty, and hilarious in all the right places, The Guncle is a perfectly entertaining read for any time of the year.