Title: Family Man
Authors: Heidi Cullinan and Marie Sexton
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press (Second Edition)
Length: 206 Pages
At a Glance: I think my one problem with this novel stems from the fact that by the end, it is not fully clear that Vinnie is bisexual. Given that, Family Man is still a powerful novel in many ways.
Reviewed By: Sammy
Blurb: Sometimes family chooses you.
At forty, Vincent “Vinnie” Fierro is still afraid to admit he might be gay—even to himself. It’ll be a problem for his big, fat Italian family. Still, after three failed marriages, it’s getting harder to ignore what he really wants.
Vinnie attempts some self-exploration in 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, Trey agrees to let Vinnie court him and see if he truly belongs on this side of the fence—though Trey intends to keep his virginity intact.
It seems like a solid plan, but nothing is simple when family is involved. When Vinnie’s family finds out about their relationship, the situation is sticky enough, but when Trey’s mother goes critical, Vinnie and Trey must decide whose happiness is most important—their families’ or their own.
Review: Poor Vinnie Fierro. He is both the product of a very Catholic and huge extended family, and is also a victim of its prejudices. From an early age, Vinnie was frightened that the feelings he had for boys were wrong, and even though he dated and married more than one woman, his family mistakenly thought his inability to settle on one thing, whether it be helping to run the family restaurant business or keeping a wife, was just a personality flaw that would work itself out. The reality is that Vinnie wasn’t happy because Vinnie was deeply closeted and denying it to everyone, including himself. But this guy was the genuine article—caring, a family man and so very kindhearted. He should have made some girl so very happy, but unfortunately Vinnie wanted what he thought he could never have—some boy to make him happy and to love. He shares his fears about possibly being gay with his sister, Rachel, and it is she who points out that Vinnie may very well be bisexual and that it is okay to be either. It’s Vinnie who has such difficulty wrapping his mind around his unclear sexuality until he sees Trey, a young man from the old neighborhood who sets every alarm and hormone raging for poor Vinnie.
Suddenly, what cannot possibly be Vinnie liking boys turns into Vinnie denying that Trey could actually be “the one”. Now, if only Vinnie didn’t fear his family would disown him, if only Trey could let down all the barriers that are preventing him from hoping for a life that could be happier than he ever imagined, and if only Vinnie didn’t have to admit to himself and everyone else that he was falling head-over-heels in love with a man.
I will be the first to admit that I love age gap romances, and Trey and Vinnie fit that bill completely with over a ten year difference between them. I will also say that I adore when a family supports their son or daughter’s coming out, no matter what the age, and does so with a fairly honest approach. I liked how Vinnie’s mother admitted that his being bisexual would not be her choice for him but that he was family and he would never not be loved, regardless of whom he chose to love. Additionally, I felt that the handling of the emotional damage Trey carried with him due to his alcoholic mother and their terrible life up to this point was both heartbreaking and realistic. I felt it lent the much needed credence to Trey’s desire to remain a virgin and withhold his emotional trust from Vinnie, particularly since his life prior to this had been one hellish event after another.
The chemistry between Trey and Vinnie was perhaps the most well done aspect of this novel. The slowly developing romance coupled with both men coming to terms with some undeniably huge emotional crossroads made for a highly believable and tender love story that unfolded at just the right pace. These two men created a slow dance that built in energy and heat with each date. I loved that Vinnie didn’t suddenly “turn gay” but rather grappled with is sexuality until he made the decision to just allow himself to be happy, to give that young boy inside the opportunity to be himself and love whom he chose without recrimination or self-loathing. I so respected these authors for allowing Trey to hold back on both full-on sex and emotional dependence. He was a scarred man, one who, from an early age, had to grapple with an alcoholic parent, and try to make sense of the fact that his mother had a disease but also made choices that deliberately and selfishly affected her son. I believe that the point being made here was that no one can fully understand the complex emotional burden of caring for an alcoholic nor has the right to judge the way in which the innocent bystanders, i.e. family, choose to cope with that horrible truth.
I think my one problem with this novel stems from the fact that by the end, it is not fully clear that Vinnie is bisexual. Rather, I felt at times that he viewed himself as gay simply to put a more acceptable label on his sexuality. I was dismayed by that for I felt it was rather clear in the way in which the authors wrote the character that he was bisexual and so I leaned toward calling him that in this review. To that end, I wish there had been more honesty in this self-discovery process for Vinnie and that the blurb itself depicted him as I felt he was written–bisexual.
Given that, Family Man is still a powerful novel in many ways. Instead of taking difficult subject matter and glossing over it by making it all pretty and easy, authors Cullinan and Sexton chose to let the romance aspect be a bit more gritty and hard fought. They gave their men real problems and allowed them to grapple with them for a bit, which made the ending of this story so much more beautiful and realistic.
You can buy Family Man here: