Everyone should have a guncle (gay uncle/ GUP/gay uncle Patrick) like Patrick. He’s the single, but not by choice, good-looking, middle-aged – well, 43 – famous former star of a sitcom, The People Upstairs, which ran for nine seasons and provides him with more money than he needs. He’s even won a Golden Globe. He currently lives in a swanky part of Palm Springs, spending his days doing exactly what he wants – which is mostly avoiding his agent and trying to stay out of the public eye.
Then his sister-in-law, Sara, dies. Although Patrick hadn’t seen her in a while, they’d once been close. In fact, he knew her before his brother Greg did. Patrick races to the East coast to be with his family and it’s then that Greg tells him that he’s an addict and he needs Patrick to take care of the children for the summer while he goes to rehab in California. It has to be Patrick and not their older sister, Clara, who takes them because as Greg explains “The only way this is going to work, the only way I’m going to be able to do this, is if I know they’re nearby. They’re my strength.”
Patrick isn’t exactly father material, but he loves his brother and he loved Sara and so he agrees to take nine-year-old Maisie and six-year-old Grant back home with him. Thus begins a summer of healing, not just for the kids but for Patrick, too, who is still mourning the loss of his partner, Joe.
Understandably, Maisie and Grant are shell-shocked by the loss of their mother, but they are also children who need daily care and attention. They ask irritating questions, have peculiar eating habits, and need his undivided attention. In the early days, Patrick imagines scenarios that would allow someone else to take over the caretaking duties he feels ill-prepared to manage on his own. But as the summer goes along, the three fall into a rhythm that is endearing and frequently funny.
The Guncle is not without its charms, for sure. If it was perhaps a tad schmaltzy, it can certainly be forgiven. It tackles the difficult subject of grief, manages to ring true regarding sibling relationships, even the prickly ones, and ultimately lands on the side of family is everything. It was an enjoyable read.