Sunset Park is the second in the Five Boroughs series – the first Sutphin Boulevard introduced us to the Rodriguez family, and the relationship between ‘Nunzio and Michael. This book concerns Michael’s younger brother, Raymond.
Raymond is used to ignoring responsibility, knowing his older brother and his mother will look after things. With both their parents’ dead, Michael wants to rent our the family home and move in with his boyfriend. Raymond has to get his act together and join the adult world, starting with finding somewhere to live.
David Butler is a teacher at the same school as Michael. At the end of the last book, he became friends with Raymond, and when Ray needs to find a place to live, offers to be his roommate. Raymond agrees for reasons other than just needing a place to crash.
Out and proud, David is Raymond’s opposite in almost every way—he is Connecticut prim and proper while Raymond is a sarcastic dockworker from Queens—but their friendship is very strong. Their closeness surprises everyone, as does their flirting, which is not always merely playful. Raymond has always kept his bi-curious side a secret from everyone including his brother. Once he and David find an apartment and move in together, flirting turns physical, and soon their easy camaraderie and friendship is in danger of being lost to frustrating sexual tension and the stark cultural differences that set them apart. Raymond has to commit to his new independence, which means a steady office job and paying bills. However, he has also to commit to his feelings for David, or risk losing him for good.
Santino Hassell’s Five Boroughs series is very good indeed. The writing is accurate and well-paced, and these character driven stories are real life in all its glory. The interest in the characters comes from the fact that they are accessible, three-dimensional and flawed. There are no contrived meetings or outlandish feats involved— this is how people meet and fall in love.
The worries and problems encountered here are ones we can all identify with. In Britain, the class system is often mocked for still existing when it shouldn’t. However, even the ‘land of the free’ has its own class system relating to money and status. Trying to live up to this status driven society comes with its own dramas and pitfalls.
Raymond is an intelligent young man who hasn’t found his way yet, but expecting him to work in a white-collar job is akin to torture. The fact he perseveres is testament to how much he is investing into changing his ways. He does, however retain a concern about his worth when compared to David and David’s ex., Caleb. This holds him back from pursuing his feelings for David. Some of the problem seems to be that, rather than finding his own way, Raymond is trying to live up to Michael’s and to some extent, Nunzio’s, expectations of him. This causes him to attribute these expectations to others around him as well.
David is blond, adorable, a teacher and gay man who cannot pass as straight. He seems to attract boyfriends who want to take care of him, which is not what he wants from a relationship. He believes in romantic love, sparks and happy endings, but can’t understand why his ‘good on paper’ relationship with Caleb doesn’t work for him. Consequently, the relationship has been on then off, several times. His feelings for Raymond are something different and they scare him. He has no concerns about their difference in job status, but worries that Raymond will move on when he is finished experimenting with his bi-curious side.
One of the areas where Santino’s novels consistently outshine others in the genre, is the sex scenes. They are sizzling, tender when necessary, and utterly relevant to the story as a whole. Sunset Park is no exception and it has one of the best first kisses I can remember, plus a sexting scene via Grindr that is well—exceptional.
I loved all the characters in this story. Even the small part played by David’s parents is complex family interaction, and utterly endearing. This is a story of ordinary people, and while I applaud the author for the realism of his New York stories, I did miss that little something extra in Sunset Park where the plot is concerned.
Overall, this is a good read and I will be lining up for the next in the series.