Why I read it: I had this one pre-ordered. Cullinan and Sexton are two of my favourite m/m romance authors.
What it’s about: (from Goodreads) Sometimes family chooses you.How does a man get to be forty without knowing whether he’s gay? That’s a question Vince Fierro is almost afraid to answer. If he is gay, it’ll be a problem for his big, fat Italian family. Still, after three failed marriages, he can’t help but wonder if he’s been playing for the wrong team.There’s only one way to settle it, once and for all—head for Chicago’s Boystown bars, far from anyone who knows him. Naturally, he runs smack into someone from the neighborhood.Between working two jobs, going to school, taking care of his grandmother, and dealing with his mother’s ongoing substance abuse, Trey Giles has little time for fun, let alone dating someone who swears he’s straight. Yet after one night of dancing cheek-to-cheek to the sultry strains of Coltrane, Trey finds himself wanting to help Vinnie figure things out—no promises, and no sex.
It seems like a simple plan, until their “no-sex” night turns into the best date of their lives and forges a connection that complicates everything.
What worked for me (and what didn’t): Vince Fierro has long had an attraction to men but his strict Catholic upbringing meant that he pushed those desires firmly away. He was so deep in the closet he didn’t even realise he was in it. But, after three divorces, he decides maybe it’s time to explore his attraction to men and see where that takes him.
Vince comes from a large Italian family – loads of cousins and uncles and aunties and loads of expectation about working in the family restaurants and getting married and producing offspring. There doesn’t appear to be much acceptance for a gay Vince. His sister, Rachel, however is also a close friend and they can talk about almost anything. He goes to Rachel and confesses he thinks he might be gay.
“It’s just hard for me, Rach. And I don’t know what I am. I really don’t.” He crossed to the bottle of Oban, took his glass back from her and poured liberally. “But hell, what if that’s been the problem all this time, why I can’t stay with a woman?”Rachel snorted. “You can’t stay with a brand of shampoo, Vinnie. You have commitment issues that have commitment issues.”
Rachel tells him to man up and says some things he needs to hear about how being gay has nothing to do with masculinity and encourages him to go to a gay bar and see where it takes him. Somewhat unexpectedly, it takes him to Trey Giles, a young man from the neighbourhood he’s known casually for years. Trey is 25 to Vince’s 38, but the age difference doesn’t play a large part in the story. Trey is still a student and lives at home so he comes across younger than he is perhaps, but I was glad that the age issue wasn’t a big deal.
Trey’s mother is an alcoholic and he is very conflicted in his feelings about her. There are some poignant moments later in the book where he feels bad for his feelings but feels them anyway. I think anyone who has been in a situation where there is chronic illness or disease or substance abuse might feel like that at least once in a while and it doesn’t make them evil. Trey has watched his college fund go down the drain with wasted rehabilitation for his mother, his grandmother has a second mortgage for the same reason and Trey has 2 jobs and is struggling to keep up with college, even though he’s taking very few courses (which explains why he is still in college). He feels very trapped and sees no way out.
He is very attracted to Vince but he’s been raised (by his grandmother) to value sex as something involving love and he’s decided not to give it up for just anyone. At first, exploring a relationship with the closeted Vince is safe because Vince isn’t expecting (or even wanting at the start at least) for Trey to put out. Gradually, Trey and Vince draw closer and family crisis for Trey leads to Vince having to face coming out to his beloved family – something which may cost him dearly if the comments he’s overheard at family gatherings are to be believed.
This last was perhaps the weakest part of the story. Things seemed too easy here and were not well fleshed out.
I was torn between feeling sympathetic for Trey’s feelings to and about his mother and alcoholism in general and feeling a bit hit over the head with the message. That said, Trey’s feelings are intense and believable and understandable and they inform his relationship with Vince quite a bit. It did seem occasionally heavy-handed to me though.
There is not a lot of sex and it takes quite a while for anything much to happen between the men – the romance is a slow build and I appreciated that the men wanted to take time with it. I also appreciated Trey’s stance on sex – I haven’t found it very common in my m/m reading but I’m sure there are men out there who don’t want to have sex with men they don’t care about.
There were many women in the story and most of them were favourably represented. The “villain” if there is one, is Trey’s mother, but even she is presented (and this, even through Trey’s jaded eyes) as somewhat sympathetic. It seemed like some psychiatric intervention by her medicos could have made a big difference but it was missed and everyone suffered aftewards.
For all of Trey’s difficulties, there was no obvious answer. While I accept this is the case, in the context of the book, I felt like there was a bit of a dangling plot thread – I perhaps needed an explicit conversation where Trey’s family problems were discussed and a strategy agreed upon. I saw what happened but I didn’t see Trey agreeing that it was enough. I’m not expressing this very well because I don’t want to give away too much. But there was a conversation between Vince and Trey that I felt was left unfinished and that’s the kind of thing I notice and that niggles at the back of my mind.
For the longest time, Trey had felt very isolated and in Vince he found someone who would be strong for him (as his grandmother was now physically unable to be) and who could expand his family exponentially and I enjoyed seeing this happen. I suppose it was a bit on the saccharine side, but I enjoyed it nevertheless.
I enjoyed Second Hand better than Family Man but Vince and Trey were good for each other and I believed in their HEA and I’m happy to have met them.
What else? The truly unfortunate thing about this book is that it gave me the worst ear worm (a song which is all kinds of wrong on so many levels and not on topic at all) – which I will now share with you. You’re welcome.