Author: Tom Mendicino
Genre: Gay; Contemporary
Buy link: Amazon.com
Length: Novel; also ebook
Rating: 5 stars out 5
A guest review by Leslie
IN A NUTSHELL: A powerful coming out story of a gay man who has been married for 20 years; an arrest for solicitation forces him to rethink, reevaluate, and rebuild his life. Readers share this experience with the prickly, but sympathetic, first person narrator.
All it took to destroy Andy Nocera’s seemingly perfect life was an anonymous tryst at an Interstate rest area. Sentenced to probation and thrown out by his wife, he spends his week as a traveling salesman, and his weekends at his mother’s house where no questions are asked—and no explanations are offered.
To clear his record, the State of North Carolina requires Andy to complete one year of therapy without another arrest. He attends his sessions reluctantly at first, struggling to comprehend why he would risk everything. Answers don’t come easily, especially in the face of his mother’s sudden illness and his repeated failure to live as an openly gay man. But as Andy searches his past, he gets an opportunity to rescue another lost soul—and a chance at a future that is different in every way from the one he had envisioned.
With profound honesty, sharp wit, and genuine heart, this debut novel portrays one man’s search—for love and passion, acceptance and redemption—and for the courage to really live.
Wave’s recent post on coming out and the accompanying essays generated quite a bit of discussion here at the site. If that conversation interested you, then I would definitely recommend this book. It’s an extended look at one year in the life of Andy Nocera—one harrowing year. Fortunately, he tells the story with lots of humor and wit, so even though we as readers are raked over the coals, more than once, it’s a bearable experience. The unexpected payoff at the end makes the emotional journey worthwhile, too.
The blurb summarizes the story nicely, so I won’t repeat it here. The story is told from Andy’s first person POV. In the opening chapter we are introduced to Andy and his therapist, a Jesuit priest who is also a psychiatrist (MD). Andy doesn’t want to be in therapy but he also doesn’t want a police record that identifies him as a sexual offender, so he does what he has to do to get that cleared up: talk to Father Matt.
The story moves forward in time but also flashes back in Andy’s mind as we learn about his childhood, marriage, and present-day life. The entire story doesn’t take place in his psychiatrist’s office but those sessions are important touchstones that mark his progress throughout the year.
They say you have to descend into hell before you can start getting better, and Andy does. It’s tough reading, particularly because he doesn’t turn the corner until late in to the book (after the book proper ends, to be completely honest). But Andy is a sympathetic character and I found I was rooting for him, despite the massive quantities of alcohol and drugs that he was ingesting and the poor choices he was making along the way. I wanted things to work out for him and…not to give too much away…they did, but not in the way I expected.
Men who know they are gay but choose to get married to a woman—put on a façade of a “normal” life—it’s a societal consequence that is slowly changing. I look forward to the day when men (and women) are not forced to live a lie for 10, 20, 30 years…but that day is not here yet. So, unfortunately, many men will have to go through what Andy went through—I suspect that this story, although fictional, will ring true for many people who read it.
I should probably note that this is not a romance although issues of sex and sexuality pervade the narrative. If you are looking for sweet kisses or hot smexxin’, this is not the story for you. On the other hand, if you are looking for a very well told, well written story of a man being wrenched from the closet and forced to reevaluate and rebuild his life in the process, then you will want to read this book.
This is the author’s first novel (although he has published several short stories in various collections) and it is an auspicious debut. I look forward to reading more from him. According to his website, he is an attorney and lives in Philadelphia with his partner of 30 years. I was actually glad to find out this book wasn’t a fictionalized autobiography although in an interview, he did say that the story was based on experiences of many men he has known over the years, which didn’t surprise me.
All in all, an excellent book, especially for those who like a little challenge in their fiction. I can recommend this with ease and am happy to give it an unqualified five stars.