Family Man (Leslie’s Review)

Title & buy link: Family Man
Author: Heidi Cullinan and Marie Sexton
Buy link: Amazon.com (Second Edition)
Genre: M/M contemporary (Review of First Edition)
Length: Novel (262 pages)
Rating: 4.25 stars out of 5

A guest review by Leslie S

Review summary: An enjoyable and moving story about family, second chances, and learning to trust.

Blurb


Second edition coming soon!
Sometimes family chooses you.

How does a man get to be forty without knowing whether he’s gay? That’s a question Vince Fierro is almost afraid to answer. If he is gay, it’ll be a problem for his big, fat Italian family. Still, after three failed marriages, he can’t help but wonder if he’s been playing for the wrong team.

There’s only one way to settle it, once and for all—head for Chicago’s Boystown bars, far from anyone who knows him. Naturally, he runs smack into someone from the neighborhood.

Between working two jobs, going to school, taking care of his grandmother, and dealing with his mother’s ongoing substance abuse, Trey Giles has little time for fun, let alone dating someone who swears he’s straight. Yet after one night of dancing cheek-to-cheek to the sultry strains of Coltrane, Trey finds himself wanting to help Vinnie figure things out—no promises, and no sex.

It seems like a simple plan, until their “no-sex” night turns into the best date of their lives and forges a connection that complicates everything.

Warning: This book deals with alcoholism, broken promises, and overbearing little sisters.

Review
38-year-old Vince, a plumber, is clearing a blocked drain when he wonders if he’s gay. The drain belongs to a gay couple, and Vince finds himself longing for the same easy companionship and tenderness he sees between the couple. With three failed marriages and a string of unsatisfactory relationships with women behind him, Vince has to face facts. Either he’s a total loser or he’s been looking for love with the wrong gender all this time.

But thinking and doing are two different things. Vince is part of a huge, rambunctious Italian family who own a diner, and though the family are fiercely loyal and loving, they also have expectations for each and every member of the clan—Vince included. He’s afraid of what they’ll say if he announces he’s gay, so he begins by telling his younger sister, Rachel. Though she’s surprised, she’s not horrified and encourages him to go to the gay bars in Boystown, where Vince runs into Trey, a cute young student who grew up in Vince’s neighbourhood.

Trey is older than his years, forced into the role of provider and carer for his elderly grandmother, Sophia, and his mother, Mindy, an alcoholic who, despite stints in clinics, paid for by Sophia and Trey, keeps on slipping back into old habits. Frustrated and ashamed of his mother’s substance abuse, Trey steers clear of serious relationships. He’s a virgin, saving himself for someone he truly cares about rather than indulging in casual hook-ups, and because he doesn’t put out, he finds that most guys he dates don’t stick around long.

But Vince is different, and not just because he’s only got one foot out of the closet. Trey convinces him that they should go out—no sex, no pressure—and see where it takes them. The arrangement gives Vince room to breathe and untangle his emotions, and it gives Trey the chance to enjoy a relationship that’s built on friendship as much as it is on physical attraction.

The test of their commitment comes when Mindy is rushed to hospital with seizures complicated by her alcohol addiction. Trey needs Vince more than ever, but can Vince finally admit the truth of who he is to the people who can help the most—his family?

Family Man was a slow-burn book for me, one that once you’re into it, it feels well-worn and comfortable. It wasn’t a book I rushed through to find out what happened next; I read it slowly, which suits the pace of the story. It’s a realistic and honest portrayal of a man coming to terms with the fact that he’s gay as well as a realistic and honest portrayal of a man battling with all the grief, guilt and shame of caring for a loved one with a serious substance addiction.

I really liked Vince—he’s aware that he’s a bit of an Italian macho man stereotype and he knows his family well enough to recognise that breaking that stereotype and admitting he’s gay (and a bottom! I loved that bit of total non-conformity :grin:) could cause a huge rift, but after decades of trying things one way, he has the courage and self-belief to do what his heart tells him. He’s a genuinely good guy, a definite product of his warm, loving, bossy family, and when he sees a problem, he wants to fix it.

Trey is just as much a product of his upbringing, too, and the differences between the two men couldn’t be greater. Trey’s father is long dead, and his mother’s mood is volatile and unpredictable. Only his grandmother offers him any support, but she’s elderly and is just as trapped by Mindy’s alcoholism. It took me a while to warm up to Trey, but once we get past his ‘everything is fine’ facade and into the awful conflict of his emotions, he becomes very real. He has his pride and he has a lot of anger, and while Vince wants to offer the hope of a solution, Trey knows from bitter experience that hope isn’t always enough. It’s such a burden for anyone to carry and the authors show this in a powerful yet understated way.

I enjoyed the slight May/December aspect to the romance, although the age difference came across in a subtle way because in terms of life experience the men are more equally balanced. I particularly liked the theme of balance that ran all the way through the book, which made it a very satisfactory read. Also, the female characters were interesting and memorable, especially Sophia and Rachel.

The book is told in alternating POV, Vince in 3rd person, Trey is 1st person. It took me a while to get into that—it’s not usually a format I like—but towards the second half of the book it really works, especially when we see how deeply Trey has been affected by Mindy’s substance abuse.

Sometimes I wish the Samhain ‘warnings’ were less jokey. Mindy’s alcoholism is an integral and very painful part of the story. Cullinan and Sexton are excellent authors and handle this subject well without shying away from any details. It’s raw and unflinching. I found it quite hard to read about Mindy’s downward spiral and how it affected Trey, so if substance abuse is a trigger for you then please take heed of the warning.

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