The past few months have been a little rough around here, so I’ve been looking for books that will make me smile. I’d heard The Guncle by Steven Rowley mentioned a few times in conversation, and the premise sounded fun, so I thought I’d give it a shot. The synopsis read a bit like a sitcom, and I needed a good sitcom in my life at that moment…especially in book form.
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.
Well, I wanted a sitcom, and that’s exactly what I got. I’m not sure why this hasn’t become a show already because you can basically hear the laugh track as Patrick says one-liner after one-liner, showing how he can’t relate to children. Some people might have found it corny, but I loved it—it was exactly the world I needed to live in right now. It also tackled trauma and heartbreak in a way that I wasn’t expecting, all while keeping the tone light and heartfelt.
Patrick, the GUP himself, is larger-than-life and very out of touch with reality. Taking his millions of dollars and essentially retiring to Palm Springs has made his world surprisingly small and full of Hollywood drama. Though the character could very easily have been annoying, I found his antics hilarious—and I loved how he played off of Maisie and Grant. He would talk to them like adults, but I don’t recall him saying anything inappropriate. The bond they formed throughout was so fun to watch. I found the secondary characters (like Patrick’s siblings, the kid’s parents and the neighbours) weren’t fleshed out as much as I would have liked…but this story wasn’t really about them.
I enjoyed that this was a story of growth. You see how Patrick, the kids and their families all grow in different ways over that summer. I wasn’t expecting that, but I was pleasantly surprised. Anyone who likes stories with families at the centre of them (with a sense of humour) will enjoy this story. And if Patrick rubs you the wrong way…just give him some time. He grows on you.
“Guncle Rule number eight: Live your life to the fullest every single day, because every day is a gift. That’s why people die. To teach us the importance of living.” —Steven Rowley, The Guncle
Thank you to Toni Cuenca on Unsplash for the featured photo.