Rating: 3.75 stars
Muslim Sayen Homet has had a long journey to get to the United States. His mother fled from his abusive father and brother back in the Middle East. Now Sayen is working his way through Stanford University’s Medical School, a place where he can be out as both gay and a Muslim. But the bills are overwhelming him, so he has become the companion of a wealthy older married man who hides his sexuality and pays Sayen’s bills. Sayen likes his older companion but is getting tired of the secrecy involved in their relationship, When a fellow student, Campbell Reardon, starts showering Sayen with attention and gifts at the same time, Sayen begins considering ending his relationship with his older benefactor and taking up with Campbell instead. Campbell Reardon is gorgeous, wealthy and says he is in love with Sayen. No longer would Sayen have to hide a relationship and he would have all the benefits of a wealthy, single suitor as well.
Sayen breaks off with his older lover and breaks the man’s heart as well. Then Sayen takes up with Campbell, who not only comes out to his parents but takes Sayen home to meet them as well. This innocent introduction of Sayen to Campbell’s parents spells destruction on all involved as Campbell’s father is none other than Blake, the married man who was involved with and loved Sayen for two years. As the shock of betrayal reverberates through the family, Blake discovers he wants Sayen back and Campbell flounders in the face of his father and lover’s past relationship. Whose love will hold the key to Sayen’s heart?
I have admired the writings of Alan Chin since I first discovered his book Matchmaker, which remains a favorite of mine. I can always count on a complex plotline and multilayered characters that behave as realistically and humanly possible with Chin’s characterizations. And as with Island Song or Simple Treasures, a mystical thread can be found running like an etherial current throughout the story. All of that comes into play here and something more, an active voice for the main character versus the passive voice Alan Chin normally applies to his books.
I have mixed feelings about how all these ingredients faired in Daddy’s Money, a complicated, ambitious story on so many levels. I was intrigued to see how Alan Chin handled a father and son competing for the same lover storyline, which is a compelling idea fraught with father-son issues such as paternal love versus romantic love. And in the father’s case, a man with repressed sexuality who has fallen in love for the first time. Along with the elements of multiple love interests, the story is told from Sayen’s Muslim view point as well, one of the more challenging elements of this story. I know that Alan Chin travels frequently throughout the world and assume that the Middle East has been the destination of many trips. But I did wonder how a non-Muslim could accurately project what a Muslim would feel or do in any given circumstance, including the rape by an older brother. This abuse figures largely in Sayen’s emotional makeup and factors enormously into his past and his outlook on love.
I think my biggest issue with this story comes down to the character of Sayen Homit. I felt absolutely no connection to this man whatsoever. The man is a taker, something Sayen himself admits to. We are given to understand he feels that living in the United States has separated him from his religion as well as his ethnicity but it comes across more as his own selfish, goal oriented views that have done that than anything else. He is ruthless in using whoever or whatever it takes to get his degree, pay his bills, accomplish his goals. If someone gets hurt, then what small guilt he feels is momentary and soon passes. Sayen will take about seeing an inner glow in others while demonstrating none of his own. In fact, the callous disregard Sayen feels towards his older benefactor just deepens the disconnect between the reader and the character once we meet Blake. Blake truly is the character that draws out our empathy, our pain. Blake is the one character, other than Campbell’s sister, that I connected with. But with Sayen showing no real warmth towards any of the other characters, remaining remote and full of distain, how can the reader be expected to show Sayen anything other than the same. Even when Sayen finally acknowledges that he loves Campbell, it is too late for both Campbell and the reader to believe it.
I honestly feel that had this story been told from Blake’s pov, not only would it have been a richer, more vibrant book in keeping with the man as he is portrayed, but a completely different review. Blake is a marvelous character, so complex, so emotionally hurt, not only by his years of lying to his wife and himself over who he really is but in pain from the loss of the only man he has ever loved, Sayen. A pain that is multiplied when Blake finds out that he has lost the man he loves to his son who is to be used as the “golden goose”. Campbell is too golden, too superficial, at least at the beginning to engage the reader’s emotions on his behalf. And those emotions, if not captured at the beginning, are hard to recapture later on. For me, it never happened with Campbell. Other than Blake, it is Campbell’s antagonistic pregnant teen sister that will interest the reader on the same level as Blake. And it is how she ended up that cost Sayen what little grace he had gained with me at the conclusion of the book. I don’t want to completely spoil the ending but just consider what a small village in Muslim Tunisia would do and think about an unwed nonbeliever, a bastard child, and a gay man in their midst. I think recent headlines give us that answer and quickly. So Sayen’s belief that his way is the only right way continues to the end and continued to further my distance from any fondness for this man and his fate.
It took me a while to hash over this book in my mind, days in fact. I went back and forth over a rating because there is so much here to admire, including a new approach in Alan Chin’s narrative as well as telling a story from a Muslim’s point of view, something I rarely see in this genre. But in the end my antipathy towards Sayen could not be overcome, no matter how I looked at this story. But I hope that Blake comes back for his own tale. He deserves it as much as he does some happiness. I want to know more about Blake’s future and new romantic love interest.
So I am going to recommend this, even with all my issues with it. You might feel differently about Sayen than I do. I look forward to hearing from those of you who read it. Tell me what you think. I can see this book generating much discussions in the near future.
Cover: LC Chase’s Bentley figures large in the story. Well done.