“Any fool can be happy. It takes a man with real heart to make beauty out of the stuff that makes us weep.” ― Clive Barker
When his secret life becomes exposed, Andy Nocera is forced to pick up the pieces whilst trying to accept his lot after losing his wife, his job, his house and his self respect. Found on his knees with a strange man in a rest room was damning enough, but having to autopsy your own psyche in the presence of a man of god, as well as try and burst out of the closet is no small feat. Nocera’s life was a constant battle, but the battle was nothing compared to the war as his new life brings fresh scars, dating faux pas a-plenty and the damning effects of the loss of a family member in a bittersweet tale of finding yourself on a road that, for all intents and purposes, seemed to lead to nowhere.
I read a lot of books. I read fantasy and crime. I read love and angst and triumph and failure. Usually it’s easy to tell which genre a book fits into. But Probation was a different story altogether, in more ways than just the obvious pun. As a reviewer I need to connect to a book, to feel the emotions, to envisage the scenes and dissect the motives. This book is not a standard m/m romance, and I didn’t know where it fit. One place it did fit, however, was in my heart.
This was my first foray into the deft skills of Mendicino, and from page one I knew I had connected with the author, his first person portrayal of the damaged Andy was an instant winner. It wasn’t a love story, and despite the events that led him to his knees at the urinal, chowing down on a trucker, this is not a gay story. The homosexual themes, though recurrent, are secondary to the breathtaking belated coming of age story and is penned with a humour and passion that will draw you in and refuse to let go until the last page. There’s an analytical quality to Mendicino’s writing that is very rare to find these days, particularly in the small world of gay fiction. It’s near impossible to find this calibre of storytelling alongside the predominance of made to titillate and two dimensional dross we have a tendency to come across. But that’s what people want to read most of the time. They want three fingers in an asshole and a money shot that smacks you in the chin. Well, prepare yourself for some much needed truth…there’s more to be found when you know where to look.
Mendicino delivers the goods at every chapter, his firm grasp of the struggles of coming up gay in the secular world both humble and obnoxious, but in that good way that has you nodding your head going “oh yeah, I have been there myself”. He puts Andy in this good guy roll, but the character is constantly at odds with himself. He fakes being the good guy and believes very little of his own hype. He thinks he is broken but in the process finds a way to fix it. He’s a protagonist with a relatable inner monologue, you can see times in your life when you too thought that way. And he’s funny as hell, which let’s face it, can sometimes be a better thing than a ripped body and a babies arm holding an apple. Mendicino has written an end-stage out of closet experience that everyone should read. Not only does he give you all the excitement of the chin moistening money shot, but afterwards, he wraps his arms around you and spoons you until you fall asleep, sated and content.
Published on the proliferative Kensington Books publishing house, Tom Mendicino is an author to look out for. His prose puts me in mind of the razor sharp diatribes of Augusten Burroughs, with the tongue in cheek audacity of Douglas Coupland, and this gem of a novel will take pride on my bookshelf, nestled between the greats as something that moved me in a way I can only express in gratitude. Thank you for this book, I will say to the man. Thank you for something real, an addition to the genre that finally caters to the thinking man. Want to feel what a real story reads like? Look to this book and marvel with me at talent, by Tom Mendicino.
It gives me great pleasure, and a warm and gooey feeling to offer this unexpected but totally appreciated addition to the world of gay literature a wonderful and well deserved 4.5 stars. You can check out Mendicino’s other work on Amazon and all other major retailer, at TLA, at the publishers own site over at Kensington Books or at his own website. He’s certainly worth the time, and then some.