Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5
Martin Dixon lives a life of quietude and certainty. Having reached the age of almost 50, Martin has his job and his friend Ricky, his condo, a failed love affair in his past which continues to torment him (as he often tells others), and not much else. But he is content or at least he thinks he is. Martin has not kept in touch with his family since his coming out, so no one is more surprised than him when his 18 year old nephew, Carter, shows up unannounced on his doorstep. Carter is hungry, dirty, and in need of a place to stay and Carter intends that place to be with his Uncle Martin.
Martin doesn’t know what to do. He hasn’t seen his nephew since he was in the single digits and he has never been all that fond of kids, no matter whose they are. Then Martin finds out that his brother turned ultra Christian conservative and when Carter was discovered with another boy, Carter’s parents turned him over to a mental hospital hoping to “cure” Carter of his “gayness”. With that fact in his possession and his gay nephew eating in his kitchen, Martin knows he can’t turn Carter away. But what is he to do with Carter, someone who has always been home schooled and kept away from society at large?
And the situation is further complicated because both uncle and nephew irritate the heck out of each other. But they are more alike than they know when each decides the way to the other’s heart is to provide them with a boyfriend and romance. Can things get more complicated? Why yes, they certainly can!
How I wish I liked this book half as much as I love its cover. By all accounts, I should adore My Favorite Uncle. The premise is priceless…almost a guaranteed shoo in to my affections. The writing by Marshall Thornton? Wonderful. He has a way of writing snark that will have you smiling, the narrative flows with a rhythm that works with dry comedy and that cover? Hell to the yes, I am almost singing the Brady Bunch song just looking at it. So why the long face, girl, as they say? Well…that would be the characters who I like about as much as they like each other. And that’s not a lot.
Basically Martin is an old codger at 50 (almost). His life is as dry as a Texas gulch in summer. He works on close captioning for a profession at home, he has a friend with whom he goes about a limited schedule of things he wants to do and places he wants to go. He’s intelligent and semi happy with his life. And when his nephew pops up unannounced at his door, expecting sanctuary, or at least a shoulder to cry on and a place to live, Martin is profoundly unhappy. That’s not the problem. Who would be thrilled under those circumstances? That’s a typical human reaction to a stranger, albeit a relative, arriving needing help. Thornton even has Martin aware that his reaction to his nephew is as small hearted and cold as it appears to Carter and the readers. But this reaction continues throughout most of the story, and while I was waiting for Martin to warm up to Carter, I was equally aware that I was unable to warm up to Martin. I could understand his reactions and predicament. Martin didn’t want his orderly life upset. Got it. I just couldn’t find it in myself to like Martin who continued more out of guilt than a sense of compassion.
Carter too is a special case as far as a character goes. He’s a naif who finds himself in a sort of gay Disneyland or in this case Long Beach. Want sex because everyone knows gay men have sex like a gazillion times a year? Get told to stand outside a gay bar at closing time and take your pick and do it! Carter’s assumptions about what it means to be gay are both hilarious and sad. I really liked Carter. His unformed personality actually made sense. Thornton kept that persona true to a teenager isolated in a conservative Christian household (or any ultra religious household, doesn’t matter what religion) where any connection to society and modern cultural milestones is kept at a minimum. His family’s reaction to finding out Carter is gay? Send him off to a mental hospital to be “de gayed”. How true and horrific that this continues to be legal. But that’s another issue for me here. What happened to Carter is undercut by the manner in which it is brought up and brushed off for most of the story. Only towards the end does that segment of Carter’s life get the appropriate attention. And by then its almost too late. But Carter is that character who won’t be suppressed and he bounces back and right into the reader’s heart.
Is this a light, dry comedy? Realistic family drama? Bit of both, as it should be. But for that to work in a story it has to flow seamlessly and realistically between the two, incorporating it into the plot as just one more thread amongst many in a tapestry. Instead both are highlighted here by the author’s treatment and it feels more jumbled than a realistic messy whole.
I liked the end. All were family although not friends. Some things don’t change. Never did enjoy being in Martin’s company, I had hope for Carter and his furture, and liked his adopted group of friends/family. Ernesto, his mother, Ricky, and all the rest. That was nice and even familiar. That’s how I feel about My Favorite Uncle. It was mostly nice, while parts of it were wonderful, consistently funny and dry. Other segments are so detached that the reader is kept at arm’s length away from any emotional attachment to the characters and their fate.
If you need to feel intimately connected to characters and their stories, then the almost indifferent air to the narrative here might make My Favorite Uncle not the story for you. But if you find that fine writing, interesting characters, no matter how detached or impartial you might feel about them, and a terrific premise are all you need, then My Favorite Uncle is right up your Kindle! I will leave the choice up to you.
Cover art by Wilde City Press. OK, I love that cover. Shear perfection!
ebook, 220 pages
Published June 25th 2014 by Wilde City Press
charactersMartin Dixon, Carter Dixon
settingLong Beach, California (United S