The Guncle by Steven Rowley

17 March 2022

The Guncle
by Steven Rowley
Published on May 25th, 2021 by G.P. Putnam's Sons
Genres: Literary Fiction, LGBTQ Fiction

Patrick, or Gay Uncle Patrick (GUP, for short), has always loved his niece, Maisie, and nephew, Grant. That is, he loves spending time with them when they come out to Palm Springs for weeklong visits, or when he heads home to Connecticut for the holidays. But in terms of caretaking and relating to two children, no matter how adorable, Patrick is honestly a bit out of his league.

So when tragedy strikes and Maisie and Grant lose their mother and Patrick’s brother has a health crisis of his own, Patrick finds himself suddenly taking on the role of primary guardian. Despite having a set of “Guncle Rules” ready to go, Patrick has no idea what to expect, having spent years barely holding on after the loss of his great love, a somewhat-stalled career, and a lifestyle not-so-suited to a six- and a nine-year-old. Quickly realizing that parenting—even if temporary—isn’t solved with treats and jokes, Patrick’s eyes are opened to a new sense of responsibility, and the realization that, sometimes, even being larger than life means you’re unfailingly human.
Grieving isn't the same for each person. We all deal with grief differently depending on the circumstances and fewer tears or emotional distress doesn't mean we loved the person less than those we've cried over.

Grief takes centre stage in Steven Rowley's The Guncle, which follows the story of Gay Uncle Patrick or GUP who seems to have it all — he’s a former sitcom actor with an Emmy award with a big house in Palm Springs. But his quiet life takes a bit of a turn when he gets temporary custody of his niece and nephew following their mother’s passing and their father checking himself into rehab for pill addiction. For a whole summer, Patrick attempts to juggle being the guardian to two little kids who just lost their mother and also dealing with his own personal grief.

If I could sum up this book with a popular quote, it’s: ‘but what is grief, if not love persevering’. Rowley’s writing is exceedingly witty and so easy to get into. Everything about The Guncle is achingly tender and warm. I laughed a lot and cried a lot. I loved everything about Patrick, especially how he cared for the kids, Maisie and Grant, (and how he speaks to them like they were adults even when they can’t really understand him) and tried his best to teach them how to navigate their new lives without their mother through his own set of ‘Guncle rules’.

But despite Rowley's attempt at a comedic twist in overcoming tragedy and grief, this book is not without its sorrowful moments — Patrick is not only dealing with the loss of a long-time best friend (the children's mother) but also his partner, which caused him to quit Hollywood. Then there are the kids who will be growing up without their mother.

A beautiful ‘character study’ story that tugs on your heartstrings and also tickles your funny bone, The Guncle is a story about acknowledging a supposedly lifetime of sorrow but also taking the step to heal. A highly recommended read!

Review originally posted on Instagram

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